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Abe Lincoln 
Gets His Chance 


Illustrated by Paula Hutchison 

A fresh slant is achieved in this story of 
Abe Lincoln, written especially for chil- 
dren of the "middle" years and concen- 
trating on his youth and young manhood. 
In this lively, glowing portrait the author 
shows us a man who, because of the 
depth and variety and simple humility of 
his character, seems to grow more ap- 
pealing every year. Out of circumstances 
which others would have considered a 
handicap he made his opportunities, and 
the author has stressed the courage that 
offers a challenge to each new gener- 

In writing this book, Frances Cavanah 
depended primarily on Abraham Lin- 
coins own statements and on the state- 
ments of his family and friends. They 
remembered the pranks he played, the 
jokes and stories he told, the books he 
read. Some of them had gone to school 
with him. Others had worked with him 
in the fields when he was a hired boy in 
Indiana. Still others had known him as a 
lawyer in Illinois. 

Even in his youth Abraham Lincoln was 
something of a puzzle to his neighbors. 
He was one of the poorer boys in a back- 
woods community, and his driving am- 
bition was so unusual it was hard to 
understand. But always there was a 
quality about him that attracted friends. 

These friends, his own mother, then his 
remarkable stepmother, combined to give 
him his chance to get ahead. 

(Continued on back flap) 

' ■'^&rml} ll 






*•. ,»» 


1 Lincoln's Birthplace, Kentucky 

2 Pigeon Creek Farm, Indiana 

3 Lincoln's First Home in Illinois 

4 Tom and Sarah's Coles County Cabin 

5 Lincoln's Springfield Home 




the Class of 1901 

founded by 




Abe Lincoln 
Gets His Chance 



Abe Lincoln 
Gets His Chance 


illustrated by Paula Hutchison 



This book is dedicated to 
my grandnephew 









&&v* — 



In writing this story of Abraham Lincoln, the 
author depended primarily on Lincoln's own state- 
ments and on the statements of his family and 
friends who had firsthand knowledge of his every- 
day life. In instances when dialogue had to be 
imagined, the conversation might logically have 
taken place in the light of known circumstances. 
Such descriptive details as were necessarily added 
were based on authentic accounts of pioneer times. 




There was a new boy baby at the Lincoln cabin! By cracky! thought 
Dennis Hanks as he hurried up the path, he was going to like having 
a boy cousin. They could go swimming together. Maybe they could 
play Indian. Dennis pushed open the cabin door. 
"Where is he?" he shouted. "Where is he?" 

"Sh!" A neighbor, who had come in to help, put her finger to her 
lips. "The baby is asleep." 

Nancy Lincoln was lying on the pole bed in a corner of the one- 
room house. She looked very white under the dark bearskin covering, 
but when she heard Dennis she raised her head. "It's all right, Denny," 
she said. "You can see him now." 

Dennis tiptoed over to the bed. A small bundle, wrapped in a 
homespun shawl, rested in the curve of Nancy's arm. When she pulled 


back the shawl, Dennis could not think of anything to say. The baby 
was so wrinkled and so red. It looked just like a cherry after the juice 
had been squeezed out. 

Nancy touched one of the tiny hands with the tip of her finger. 
"See his wee red fists and the way he throws them around!" she said. 

"What's his name?" Dennis asked at last. 

"We're calling him after his grandpappy. Abraham Lincoln!" 

"That great big name for that scrawny little mite?" 
Nancy sounded hurt. "Give him a chance to grow, will you?" 
Then she saw that Dennis was only teasing. "You wait!" she went 
on. "It won't be long before Abe will be running around in buckskin 
breeches and a coonskin cap." 

"Well, maybe — " 
The door opened, and Tom Lincoln, the baby's father, came in. 
With him was Aunt Betsy Sparrow. She kissed Nancy and carried the 
baby over to a stool by the fireplace. Making little cooing noises under 
her breath, she dressed him in a white shirt and a yellow flannel pet- 
ticoat. Sally Lincoln, two years old, who did not know quite what to 
make of the new brother, came over and stood beside her. Dennis 
drew up another stool and watched. 

Aunt Betsy looked across at him and smiled. Dennis, an orphan, 
lived with her and she knew that he was often lonely. There weren't 
many people living in Kentucky in the year 1809, and Dennis had no 
boys to play with. 

"I reckon you're mighty tickled to have a new cousin," she said. 

"I — I guess so," said Dennis slowly. 

"Want to hold him?" 
Dennis was not quite sure whether he did or not. Before he could 
answer, Aunt Betsy laid the baby in his arms. Sally edged closer. She 
started to put out her hand, but pulled it back. Abraham was so small 
that she was afraid to touch him. 

"Don't you fret, Sally," said Dennis. "Cousin Nancy said that he is 


going to grow. And when he does, do you know what I'm going to do? 
I'm going to teach him to swim." 

Looking down into the tiny red face, Dennis felt a sudden warm 
glow in his heart. "Yes, and we can go fishing down at the creek. When 
I go to the mill to get the corn ground, he can come along. He can ride 
behind me on the horse, and when it goes cloppety-clop — " 

Dennis swung the baby back and forth. It puckered up its face and 
began to cry. Dennis caught his breath in dismay. How could such a 
large noise come out of such a small body? 

"Here, Aunt, take him quick!" 
He looked at Cousin Nancy out of the corner of his eye. "I reckon 
he'll never come to much." 

"Now, Dennis Hanks, I want you to behave," said Aunt Betsy, but 
this time Nancy paid no attention to his teasing. She held out her arms 
for her son and cuddled him against her breast. 

"As I told you," she said gaily, "you have to give him a chance to 


It was almost dark by the time Aunt Betsy had tidied the one-room 
cabin. She cooked some dried berries for Nancy, and fed Sally. Dennis 
begged to spend the night. After his aunt had put on her shawl and left 
for her own cabin, he curled up in a bearskin on the floor. 

"Denny," asked Nancy, "what day is this?" 

"It's Sunday — " 

"I mean what day of the month." 

"I don't rightly know, Cousin Nancy." 

"I remember now," she went on. "It is the twelfth day of February. 
February 12, 1809! Little Abe's birthday!" 

Outside the wind rose, whistling through the bare branches of 
the trees. There was a blast of cold air as the door opened. Tom came 
in, his arms piled high with wood. He knelt on the dirt floor to build 
up the fire, and the rising flames lit the log walls with a faint red glow. 

"Are you glad it's a boy, Tom?" Nancy asked as he lay down beside 
her. "I am." 

"Yes," said Tom, but when she spoke to him again, he did not 
answer. He was asleep. She could see his tired face in the firelight. 
Life had been hard for Tom; it was hard for most pioneers. She hoped 
that their children would have things a little easier. The baby whim- 
pered, and she held him closer. 

Denny's voice piped up: "Cousin Nancy, will Abe ever grow to 
be as big as me?" 

"Bigger'n you are now," she told him. 

"Will he grow as big as Cousin Tom?" 

"Bigger'n anybody, maybe." 
Nancy looked down at her son, now peacefully asleep. She made 
a song for him, a song so soft it was almost a whisper: "Abe — Abe," 
she crooned. "Abe Lincoln, you be going to grow — and grow— and 




Abraham Lincoln did grow. He seemed to grow bigger every day. 
By the time he was seven, he was as tall as his sister, although Sally 
was two years older. That fall their father made a trip up to Indiana. 

"Why did Pappy go so far away?" Sally asked one afternoon. 

"When is he coming home?" asked Abe. 

"Pretty soon, most likely." 

Nancy laid down her sewing and tried to explain. Their pa had 
had a hard time making a living for them. He was looking for a better 
farm. Tom was also a carpenter. Maybe some of the new settlers who 
were going to Indiana to live would give him work. Anyway, he 
thought that poor folks were better off up there. 

Abe looked surprised. He had never thought about being poor. 
There were so many things that he liked to do in Kentucky. He liked 


to go swimming with Dennis after his chores were done. There were 
fish to be caught and caves to explore. He and Sally had had a chance 
to go to school for a few weeks. Abe could write his name, just like 
his father. He could read much better. Tom knew a few words, but 
his children could read whole sentences. 

Abe leaned up against his mother. "Tell us the story with our 
names," he begged. 

Nancy put her arm around him. She often told the children 
stories from the Bible. One of their favorities was about Abraham 
and Sarah. "Now the Lord said unto Abraham," she began— and 
stopped to listen. 

The door opened, and Tom Lincoln stood grinning down at 
them. "Well, folks," he said, "we're moving to Indiany." 

Nancy and the children, taken by surprise, asked questions faster 
than Tom could answer them. He had staked out a claim about a hun- 
dred miles to the north, at a place called Pigeon Creek. He was buying 


the land from the government and could take his time to pay for it. 
He wanted to start for Indiana at once, before the weather got any 

It did not take long to get ready. A few possessions— a skillet, 
several pans, the water buckets, the fire shovel, a few clothes, a home- 
spun blanket, a patchwork quilt, and several bearskins— were packed 
on the back of one of the horses. Nancy and Sally rode on the other 
horse. Abe and his father walked. At night they camped along the 

When at last they reached the Ohio River, Abe stared in sur- 
prise. It was so blue, so wide, so much bigger than the creek where 
he and Dennis had gone swimming. There were so many boats. One 
of them, a long low raft, was called a ferry. The Lincolns went right 
on board with their pack horses, and it carried them across the shin- 
ing water to the wooded shores of Indiana. 

Indiana was a much wilder place than Kentucky. There was no 


road leading to Pigeon Creek; only a path through the forest. It was 
so narrow that sometimes Tom had to clear away some underbrush 
before they could go on. Or else he had to stop to cut down a tree that 
stood in their way. Abe, who was big and strong for his age, had his 
own little ax. He helped his father all he could. 

Fourteen miles north of the river, they came to a cleared place 
in the forest. Tom called it his "farm." He hastily put up a shelter — a 
camp made of poles and brush and leaves — where they could stay 
until he had time to build a cabin. It had only three walls. The fourth 
side was left open, and in this open space Tom built a fire. The chil- 
dren helped their mother to unpack, and she mixed batter for corn- 
bread in a big iron skillet. She cut up a squirrel that Tom had shot 
earlier in the day, and cooked it over the campfire. 

"Now if you will fetch me your plates," she said, "we'll have our 

The plates were only slabs of bark. On each slab Nancy put a 
piece of fried squirrel and a hunk of cornbread. The children sank 
down on one of the bearskins to eat their first meal in their new home. 
By this time it was quite dark. They could see only a few feet be- 
yond the circle of light made by their campfire. 

Nancy shivered. She knew that they had neighbors. Tom had 
told her there were seven other families living at Pigeon Creek. But 
the trees were so tall, the night so black, that she had a strange 
feeling that they were the only people alive for miles around. 

"Don't you like it here, Mammy?" Abe asked. To him this camp- 
ing out was an adventure, but he wanted his mother to like it, too. 

"I'm just feeling a little cold," she told him. 

"I like it," said Sally decidedly. "But it is sort of scary. Are you 
scared, Abe?" 

"Me?" Abe stuck out his chest. "What is there to be scared of?" 
At that moment a long-drawn-out howl came from the forest. 
Another seemed to come from just beyond their campfire. Then 
another and another — each howl louder and closer. The black cur- 


tain of the night was pierced by two green spots of light. The chil- 
dren huddled against their mother, but Tom Lincoln laughed. 

"I reckon I know what you're scared of. A wolf." 

"A wolf?" Sally shrieked. 

"Yep. See its green eyes. But it won't come near our fire." 
He got up and threw on another log. As the flames blazed higher, 
the green lights disappeared. There was a crashing sound in the 

"Hear him running away? Cowardly varmint!" Tom sat down 
again. "No wolf will hurt us if we keep our fire going." 

It was a busy winter. Abe worked side by side with his father. 
How that boy can chop! thought Nancy, as she heard the sound of 
his ax biting into wood. Tree after tree had to be cut down before 
crops could be planted. With the coming of spring, he helped his 
father to plow the stumpy ground. He learned to plow a straight 
furrow. He planted seeds in the furrows. 

In the meantime, some of the neighbors helped Tom build a 
cabin. It had one room, with a tiny loft above. The floor was packed- 
down dirt. There were no windows. The only door was a long, up- 
and-down hole cut in one wall and covered by a bearskin. But Tom 
had made a table and several three-legged stools, and there was a 
pole bed in one corner. Nancy was glad to be living in a real house 
again, and she kept it neat and clean. 

She was no longer lonely. Aunt Betsy and her husband, Uncle 
Thomas, brought Dennis with them from Kentucky to live in the 
shelter near the Lincoln cabin. Several other new settlers arrived, 
settlers with children. A schoolmaster, Andrew Crawford, decided 
to start a school. 

"Maybe you'll have a chance to go, Abe," Nancy told him. "You 
know what the schoolmaster down in Kentucky said. He said you 
were a learner." 

Abe looked up at her and smiled. He was going to like living in 



But sad days were coming to Pigeon Creek. There was a terrible 
sickness. Aunt Betsy and Uncle Thomas died, and Dennis came 
to live with the Lincolns. Then Nancy was taken ill. After she died, 
her family felt that nothing would ever be the same again. 

Sally tried to keep house, but she was only twelve. The one 
little room and the loft above looked dirtier and more and more 
gloomy as the weeks went by. Sally found that cooking for four 
people was not easy. The smoke from the fireplace got into her eyes. 
Some days Tom brought home a rabbit or a squirrel for her to fry. 
On other days, it was too cold to go hunting. Then there was only 
cornbread to eat and Sally's cornbread wasn't very good. 

It was hard to know who missed Nancy more — Tom or the chil- 
dren. He sat around the cabin looking cross and glum. The ground 


was frozen, so very little work could be done on the farm. He decided, 
when Andrew Crawford started his school, that Abe and Sally might 
as well go. There was nothing else for them to do, and Nancy would 
have wanted it. 

For the first time since his mother's death Abe seemed to cheer 
up. Every morning, except when there were chores to do at home, 
he and Sally took a path through the woods to the log schoolhouse. 
Master Crawford kept a "blab" school. The "scholars," as he called 
his pupils, studied their lessons out loud. The louder they shouted, 
the better he liked it. If a scholar didn't know his lesson, he had to 
stand in the corner with a long pointed cap on his head. This was 
called a dunce cap. 

One boy who never had to wear a dunce cap was Abe Lincoln. 
He was too smart. His side won nearly every spelling match. He was 
good at figuring, and he had the best handwriting of anyone at 
school. Master Crawford taught reading from the Bible, but he had 
several other books from which he read aloud. Among Abe's favorite 
stories were the ones about some wise animals that talked. They 
were by a man named Aesop who had lived hundreds of years before. 

Abe even made up compositions of his own. He called them 
"sentences." One day he found some of the boys being cruel to a 
terrapin, or turtle. He made them stop. Then he wrote a composition 
in which he said that animals had feelings the same as folks. 

Sometimes Abe's sentences rhymed. There was one rhyme that 
the children thought was a great joke: 

"Abe Lincoln, his hand and pen, 
He will be good, but God knows when." 

"That Abe Lincoln is funny enough to make a cat laugh," they 

They always had a good time watching Abe during the class in 
"Manners." Once a week Master Crawford had them practice being 
ladies and gentlemen. One scholar would pretend to be a stranger 


who had just arrived in Pigeon Creek. He would leave the school- 
house, come back, and knock at the door. Another scholar would 
greet "the stranger," lead him around the room, and introduce him. 

One day it was Abe's turn to do the introducing. He opened the 
door to find his best friend, Nat Grigsby, waiting outside. Nat bowed 
low, from the waist. Abe bowed. His buckskin trousers, already too 
short, slipped up still farther, showing several inches of his bare leg. 
He looked so solemn that some of the girls giggled. The school- 
master frowned and pounded on his desk. The giggling stopped. 

"Master Crawford," said Abe, "this here is Mr. Grigsby. His pa 
just moved to these parts. He figures on coming to your school." 

Andrew Crawford rose and bowed. "Welcome," he said. "Mr. 
Lincoln, introduce Mr. Grigsby to the other scholars." 

The children sat on two long benches made of split logs. Abe 
led Nat down the length of the front bench. Each girl rose and made 
a curtsy. Nat bowed. Each boy rose and bowed. Nat returned the 
bow. Abe kept saying funny things under his breath that the school- 


master could not hear. But the children heard, and they could 
hardly keep from laughing out loud. 

Sally sat on the second bench. "Mrs. Lincoln," said Abe in a 
high falsetto voice, "this here be Mr. Grigsby." 

While she was making her curtsy, Sally's cheeks suddenly grew 
red. "Don't let on I told you, Mr. Grigsby," Abe whispered, "but Mrs. 
Lincoln bakes the worst cornbread of anyone in Pigeon Creek." 

Sally forgot that they were having a lesson in manners. "Don't 
you dare talk about my cornbread," she said angrily. 

The little log room rocked with laughter. This time Master 
Crawford had also heard Abe's remark. He walked over to the corner 
where he kept a bundle of switches. He picked one up and laid it 
across his desk. 

"We'll have no more monkeyshines," he said severely. "Go on 
with the introducing." 

One day Abe almost got into real trouble. He had started for 
school early, as he often did, so that he could read one of Master 
Crawford's books. He was feeling sad as he walked through the 
woods; he seemed to miss his mother more each day. When he went 
into the. schoolhouse, he looked up and saw a pair of deer antlers. 
Master Crawford had gone hunting. He had shot a deer and nailed 
the antlers above the door. 

What a wonderful place to swing! thought Abe. He leaped up 
and caught hold of the prongs. He began swinging back and forth. 

CRASH! One prong came off in his hand, and he fell to the floor. 
He hurried to his seat, hoping that the master would not notice. 

But Master Crawford was proud of those antlers. When he saw 
what had happened, he picked up the switch on his desk. It made a 
swishing sound as he swung it back and forth. 
"Who broke my deer antlers?" he shouted. 

No one answered. Abe hunched down as far as he could on the 
bench. He seemed to be trying to hide inside his buckskin shirt. 

Master Crawford repeated his question. "Who broke my deer 


antlers? I aim to find out, if I have to thrash every scholar in this 

All of the children looked scared, Abe most of all. But he stood 
up. He marched up to Master Crawford's desk and held out the 
broken prong that he had been hiding in his hand. 

"I did it, sir," he said. "I didn't mean to do it, but I hung on the 
antlers and they broke. I wouldn't have done it, if I had thought 
they'd a broke." 

The other scholars thought that Abe would get a licking. In- 
stead, Master Crawford told him to stay in after school. They had a 
long talk. He liked Abe's honesty in owning up to what he had done. 
He knew how much he missed his mother. Perhaps he understood 
that sometimes a boy "cuts up" to try to forget how sad he feels. 

Abe felt sadder than ever after Master Crawford moved away 
from Pigeon Creek. Then Tom Lincoln left. One morning he rode 
off on horseback without telling anyone where he was going. Several 
days went by. Even easy-going Dennis was worried when Tom did 
not return. 

Abe did most of the chores. In the evening he practiced his 
sums. Master Crawford had taught him to do easy problems in 
arithmetic, and he did not want to forget what he had learned. He 
had no pen, no ink, not even a piece of paper. He took a burnt stick 
from the fireplace and worked his sums on a flat board. 

He wished that he had a book to read. Instead, he tried to 
remember the stories that the schoolmaster had told. He repeated 
them to Sally and Dennis, as they huddled close to the fire to keep 
warm. He said them again to himself after he went to bed in the loft. 

There were words in some of the stories that Abe did not under- 
stand. He tried to figure out what the words meant. He thought 
about the people in the stories. He thought about the places men- 
tioned and wondered what they were like. 

There were thoughts inside Abraham Lincoln's head that even 
Sally did not know anything about. 



Abe took another bite of cornbread and swallowed hard. "Don't you 
like it?" asked Sally anxiously. "I know it doesn't taste like the corn- 
bread Mammy used to make." 

She looked around the room. The furniture was the same as 
their mother had used — a homemade table and a few three-legged 
stools. The same bearskin hung before the hole in the wall that was 
their only door. But Nancy had kept the cabin clean. She had known 
how to build a fire that didn't smoke. Sally glanced down at her 
faded linsey-woolsey dress, soiled with soot. The dirt floor felt cold 
to her bare feet. Her last pair of moccasins had worn out weeks ago. 
"I don't mind the cornbread — at least, not much." Abe finished 
his piece, down to the last crumb. "If I seem down in the mouth, 
Sally, it is just because — " 


He walked over to the fireplace, where he stood with his back 
to the room. 

"He misses Nancy," said Dennis bluntly, "the same as the rest 
of us. Then Tom has been gone for quite a spell." 

Sally put her hand on Abe's shoulder. "I'm scared. Do you reckon 
something has happened to Pappy? Isn't he ever coming back?" 

Abe stared into the fire. He was thinking of the wolves and 
panthers loose in the woods. There were many dangers for a man 
riding alone over the rough forest paths. The boy wanted to say 
something to comfort Sally, but he had to tell the truth. "I don't 
know, I — " 

He stopped to listen. Few travelers passed by their cabin in the 
winter, but he was sure that he heard a faint noise in the distance. 
It sounded like the creak of wheels. The noise came again— this 
time much closer. A man's voice was shouting: "Get-up! Get-up!" 

"Maybe it's Pappy!" Abe pushed aside the bearskin and rushed 
outside. Sally and Dennis were right behind him. 
"It is Pappy," Sally cried. "But look — " 

Tom Lincoln had left Pigeon Creek on horseback. He was re- 
turning in a wagon drawn by four horses. He was not alone. A 
strange woman sat beside him, holding a small boy in her lap. Two 
girls, one about Sally's age, the other about eight, stood behind her. 
The wagon was piled high with furniture — more furniture than the 
Lincoln children had ever seen. 


"Whoa, there!" Tom Lincoln pulled at the reins and brought the 
wagon to a stop before the door. 

"Here we are, Sarah." He jumped down and held out his hand to 
help the woman. 

She was very neat looking, tall and straight, with neat little 
curls showing at the edge of her brown hood. She said, "Tsch! Tsch!" 
when she saw Tom's children. She stared at their soiled clothing, 
their matted hair, their faces smudged with soot. "Tsch! Tsch!" she 
said again, and Abe felt hot all over in spite of the cold wind. He dug 
the toe of his moccasin into the frozen ground. 

"Abe! Sally!" their father said. "I've brought you a new mammy. 
This here is the Widow Johnston. That is, she was the Widow John- 
ston." He cleared his throat. "She is Mrs. Lincoln now. I've been back 
to Kentucky to get myself a wife." 

"Howdy!" The new Mrs. Lincoln was trying to sound cheerful. 
She beckoned to the children in the wagon. They jumped down and 
stood beside her. "These here are my young ones," she went on. 
"The big gal is Betsy. The other one is Mathilda. This little shaver 
is Johnny." 

Dennis came forward to be introduced, but he had eyes only 
for Betsy. She gave him a coy look out of her china-blue eyes. Tilda 
smiled shyly at Sally. Both of the Johnston girls wore pretty linsey- 
woolsey dresses under their shawls and neat moccasins on their feet. 
Sally, looking down at her own soiled dress and bare toes, wished 
that she could run away and hide. Abe said "Howdy" somewhere 
down inside his stomach. 

Sarah, Tom's new wife, looked around the littered yard, then 
at the cabin. It did not even have a window! It did not have a door 
that would open and shut — only a ragged bearskin flapping in the 
wind. She had known Tom since he was a boy and had always liked 
him. Her first husband, Mr. Johnston, had died some time before, 
and when Tom had returned to Kentucky and asked her to marry 
him, she had said yes. He had told her that his children needed a 
mother's care, and he was right. 


Poor young ones! she thought. Aloud she said, "Well, let's not 
all stand out here and freeze. Can't we go inside and get warm?" 

The inside of the cabin seemed almost as cold as the outdoors. 
And even more untidy. Johnny clung to his mother's skirt and started 
to cry. He wanted to go back to Kentucky. His sisters peered 
through the gloom, trying to see in the dim light. Sally was sure that 
they were looking at her. She sat down hastily and tucked her feet 
as far back as she could under the stool. Abe stood quite still, watch- 
ing this strange woman who had come without warning to take his 
mother's place. 

She smiled at him. He did not smile back. 

Slowly she turned and looked around. Her clear gray eyes took 
in every nook, every crack of the miserable little one-room house. 
She noticed the dirty bearskins piled on the pole bed in the corner. 
She saw the pegs in the wall that led to the loft. The fire smoldering 
in the fireplace gave out more smoke than heat. 

"The first thing we'd better do," she said, taking off her bonnet, 
"is to build up that fire. Then we'll get some victuals ready. I reckon 
everybody will feel better when we've had a bite to eat." 

From that moment things began to happen in the Lincoln cabin. 
Tom went out to the wagon to unhitch the horses. Dennis brought in 
more firewood. Abe and Mathilda started for the spring, swinging 
the water pail between them. Betsy mixed a fresh batch of corn- 
bread in the iron skillet, and Sally set it on the hearth to bake. Tom 
came back from the wagon, carrying a comb of honey and a slab of 
bacon, and soon the magic smell of frying bacon filled the air. There 
were no dishes, but Sally kept large pieces of bark in the cupboard. 
Eight people sat down at the one little table, but no one seemed to 
mind that it was crowded. 

The Lincoln children had almost forgotten how good bacon 
could taste. Abe ate in silence, his eyes on his plate. Sally seemed to 
feel much better. Sitting between her stepsisters, she was soon chat- 
tering with them as though they were old friends. Once she called 
the new Mrs. Lincoln "Mamma," just as her own daughters did. 


Dennis sat on the other side of Betsy. He seemed to be enjoying him- 
self most of all. He sopped up his last drop of golden honey on his 
last piece of cornbread. 

"I declare," he said, grinning, "we ain't had a meal like this since 
Nancy died." 

Abe jumped up at the mention of his mother's name. He was 
afraid that he was going to cry. He had started for the door, when 
he felt his father's rough hand on his shoulder. 

"Abe Lincoln, you set right down there and finish your corn- 

Abe looked up at Tom out of frightened gray eyes. But he 
shook his head. "I can't, Pa." 

"A nice way to treat your new ma!" Tom Lincoln sounded both 
angry and embarrassed. "You clean up your plate or I'll give you a 
good hiding." 

The young Johnstons gasped. Abe could hear Sally's whisper: 
"Please, Abe! Do as Pa says." Then he heard another voice. 
"Let the boy be, Tom." It was Sarah Lincoln speaking. 

There was something about the way she said it that made Abe 
decide to come back and sit down. He managed somehow to eat the 
rest of his cornbread. He looked up and saw that she was smiling at 
him again. He almost smiled back. 

Sarah looked relieved. "Abe and I," she said, "are going to have 
plenty of chance to get acquainted." 






oarah rose from the table. "There's a lot of work to be done here/' 
she announced, "before we can bring in my plunder." She meant 
her furniture and other possessions in the wagon. "First, we'll need 
plenty of hot water. Who wants to go to the spring?" 

She was looking at Abe. "I'll go, ma'am." He grabbed the water 
bucket and hurried through the door. 

Abe made several trips to the spring that afternoon. Each bucket 
full of water that he brought back was poured into the big iron 
kettle over the fireplace. Higher and higher roared the flames. When 
Sarah wasn't asking for more water, she was asking for more wood. 
The steady chop-chop of Tom's ax could be heard from the wood lot. 

Everyone was working, even Dennis. Sarah gave him a pan of 
soap and hot water and told him to wash the cabin walls. The girls 


scrubbed the table, the three-legged stools, and the corner cupboard 
inside and out. Sarah climbed the peg ladder to peer into the loft. 

"Tsch! Tsch!" she said, when she saw the corn husks and dirty 
bearskins on which the boys had been sleeping. "Take them out and 
burn them, Tom." 

"Burn them?" he protested. 

"Yes, and burn the covers on the downstairs bed, too. I reckon 
I have enough feather beds and blankets to go around. We're starting 
fresh in this house. We'll soon have it looking like a different place." 
Not since Nancy died had the cabin had such a thorough clean- 
ing. Then came the most remarkable part of that remarkable after- 
noon — the unloading of the wagon. Sarah's pots and pans shone from 
much scouring. Her wooden platters and dishes were spotless. And 
the furniture! She had chairs with real backs, a table, and a big chest 
filled with clothes. There was one bureau that had cost forty-five 
dollars. Abe ran his finger over the shining dark wood. Sarah hung 
a small mirror above it and he gasped when he looked at his re- 
flection. This was the first looking glass that he had ever seen. 

Most remarkable of all were the feather beds. One was laid on 
the pole bed, downstairs. Another was placed on a clean bearskin 
in the opposite corner to provide a sleeping place for the girls. The 
third was carried to the loft for the three boys. When Abe went to 
bed that night, he sank down gratefully into the comfortable feathers. 
The homespun blanket that covered him was soft and warm. 

On either side, Dennis and Johnny were asleep. Abe lay be- 
tween them, wide awake, staring into the darkness. The new Mrs. 
Lincoln was good and kind. He knew that. She had seemed pleased 
when Sally called her "Mamma." Somehow he couldn't. There was 
still a lonesome place in his heart for his own mother. 

Something else was worrying him. Before going to bed, Sarah 
Lincoln had looked at him and Sally out of her calm gray eyes. 
"Tomorrow I aim to make you young ones look more human," she 
said. Abe wondered what she meant. 


He found out the next morning. Tom and Dennis left early to 
go hunting. Abe went out to chop wood for the fireplace. When he 
came back, he met the three girls going down the path. Sally was 
walking between her two stepsisters, but what a different Sally! She 
wore a neat, pretty dress that had belonged to Betsy. She had on 
Sarah's shawl. Her hair was combed in two neat pigtails. Her face 
had a clean, scrubbed look. Her eyes were sparkling. She was taking 
Betsy and Mathilda to call on one of the neighbors. 
"Good-by, Mamma," she called. 

Sarah stood in the doorway, waving to the girls. Then she saw 
Abe, his arms piled high with wood. "Come in," she said. "Sally has 
had her bath. Now I've got a tub of good hot water and a gourd full 
of soap waiting for you. Skedaddle out of those old clothes and throw 
them in the fire." 

"I ain't got any others." Abe looked terrified. 
"I don't aim to pluck your feathers without giving you some new 
ones." Sarah laughed. "I sat up late last night, cutting down a pair of 
Mr. Johnston's old pants. I got a shirt, too, laid out here on the bed." 

Slowly Abe started taking off his shirt. He looked fearfully at 
the tub of hot water. 

"There's no call to be scared," said Sarah. "That tub won't bite. 
Now I'm going down to the spring. By the time I get back, I want 
you to have yourself scrubbed all over." 

Abe stuck one toe into the water. He said, "Ouch!" and drew it 
out. He then tried again, and put in his whole foot. He put in his 
other foot. He sat down in the tub. By the time Sarah returned he 
was standing before the fire, dressed in the cut-down trousers and 
shirt of the late Mr. Johnston. 

Sarah seemed pleased. "You look like a different boy," she said. 
"Those trousers are a mite too big, but you'll soon grow into them." 

Abe was surprised how good it felt to be clean again. "Thank 
you, ma'am. Now I'd better get in some more wood." 

"We have plenty of wood," said Sarah. "You see that stool? You 


sit down and let me get at your hair. It looks like a heap of under- 

Abe watched anxiously when she opened the top drawer of the 
bureau and took out a haw comb and a pair of scissors. I'll stand for 
it this time, he thought, because she's been so good to us. But if she 
pulls too hard — 

Mrs. Lincoln did pull. But when Abe said "Ouch!" she patted 
his shoulder and waited a moment. He closed his eyes and screwed 
up his face, but he said nothing more. Perhaps she couldn't help pull- 
ing, he decided. Lock after lock she snipped off. He began to wonder 
if he was going to have any hair left by the time she got through. 

"I've been watching you, Abe. You're a right smart boy," she 
said. "Had much schooling?" 

"I've just been to school by littles." 

"Have you a mind to go again?" 

"There ain't any school since Master Crawford left. Anyhow, 
Pappy doesn't set much store by eddication." 


"What do you mean, Abe?" 

"He says I know how to read and write and cipher and that's 
enough for anyone." 

"You can read?" she asked. 

"Yes'm, but I haven't any books." 

"You can read and you haven't any books. I have books and I 
can't read." 

Abe looked at her, amazed. "You have books?" 
Sarah nodded, but said nothing more until she had finished cut- 
ting his hair. Then she led him over to the bureau. 

"Now see if you don't like yourself better without that brush heap 
on top of your head," she asked him. 

A boy with short neat hair gazed back at Abe from the mirror. 

"I still ain't the prettiest boy in Pigeon Creek," he drawled, "but 
there ain't quite so much left to be ugly. I'm right glad, ma'am, you 
cleared away the brush heap." 

Was he joking? He looked so solemn that Sarah could not be 
sure. Then he grinned. It was the first time that she had seen him 

"You're a caution, Abe," she said. "Now sit yourself down over 
there at the table, and I'll show you my books." 

She opened the top drawer of the bureau and took out four 
worn little volumes. Although she could not read, she knew the titles: 
"Here they are: Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim's Progress, Sinbad the 
Sailor, and Aesop's Fables'' 

"Oh, ma'am, this book by Mr. Aesop is one the schoolmaster had. 
The stories are all about some smart talking animals." 

He seemed to have forgotten her, as he bent his neat shorn 
head down over the pages. He chuckled when he read something that 
amused him. Sarah watched him curiously. He was not like her John. 
He was not like any boy that she had ever known. But the hungry 
look in his eyes went straight to her heart. 


He looked up at her shyly. "Ma'am," he said, "will you let me 
read these books sometimes?" 

"Why, Abe, you can read them any time you like. I'm giving 
them to you to keep." 

"Oh, Mammal" The name slipped out as though he were used to 
saying it. He had a feeling that Nancy, his own mother, had never 
gone away. 

"You're my boy, now," Sarah told him, "and I aim to help you all 
I can. The next time a school keeps in these parts, I'm going to ask 
your pappy to let you and the other children go." 

"Thank you, ma'am," said Abe. "I mean— thank you, Mamma." 



c% * 

Many changes were taking place in the Lincoln cabin. Sarah per- 
suaded Tom to cut two holes in the walls for windows, and she 
covered them with greased paper to let in the light. He made a 
wooden door that could be shut against the cold winter winds. Abe 
and Dennis gave the walls and low ceiling a coat of whitewash, and 
Sarah spread her bright rag rugs on the new wooden floor. 

"Aunt Sairy," Dennis told her, "you're some punkins. One just 
naturally has to be somebody when you're around." 

Abe smiled up at her shyly. "It is sort of like the magic in that 
story of Sinbad you gave me." 

The other children were asleep. Abe sprawled on the floor, 
making marks on a wooden shovel with a pointed stick. Tom, seated 
in one of his wife's chairs, was dozing on one side of the fireplace. 


Sarah put down her knitting and looked around the cabin. "The 
place does look right cozy," she replied. "What is that you're doing, 

"Working my sums." 

Tom opened his eyes. "You know how to figure enough already. 
Put that shovel up and go to bed." 

Abe took a knife and scraped the figures from the wooden 
shovel. He placed it against one side of the fireplace. "Good night, 
Mamma," he said. 

"Good night, Abe." 

Sarah's eyes were troubled. She waited until Dennis had joined 
Abe in the loft, then turned to her husband. "I've been meaning to 
tell you, Tom, what a good pa you've been to my young ones." 

She saw that he was pleased. "I've tried to be a good mother to 
Abe and Sally, too," she went on. 

"You have been, Sairy. They took to you right off." 

"I'm right glad, but there's something else I want to talk to you 
about, Tom." He was nodding again in his chair, and she paused to 
make sure that he was listening. "Abe's a smart boy. I told him the 
next time a school keeps in these parts, I'd ask you to let him and the 
other children go." 

"Humph!" Tom grunted. "There ain't any school for him to go 
to. Anyway, he wastes enough time as 'tis. He's always got his nose 
buried in those books you brought." 

"That bothers me, too. I saw you cuff him the other day because 
he was reading." 

"I had to, Sairy. I told him to come out and chop some wood, 
but he up and laughed in my face." 

"He wasn't laughing at you, Tom. He was laughing at Sinbad." 

"Who in tarnation is Sinbad?" 

"A fellow in one of his books. Abe said that Sinbad sailed his 
flatboat up to a rock, and the rock was magnetized and pulled all the 
nails out of his boat. Then Sinbad fell into the water," 


"That's what I mean," Tom exploded. "Dennis told him that book 
was most likely lies, but Abe keeps on reading it. Where is all this 
book learning going to get him? More'n I ever had." 

"Maybe the Lord meant for young ones to be smarter than their 
parents," said Sarah, "or the world might never get any better." 

Tom shook his head in dismay. "Women and their fool notions! 
If I don't watch out, you'll be spoiling the boy more'n his own 
mammy did." 

Sarah's cheeks were red as she bent over her knitting. Tom was 
right about one tiling. There was no school for Abe to go to. But 
some day there would be. Every few weeks another clearing was 
made in the forest, and the neighbors gathered for a "house raising" 
to help put up a cabin. Then smoke would rise from a new chimney, 
and another new home would be started in the wilderness. 

With so many new settlers, there was usually plenty of work 
for Abe. Whenever Tom did not need him at home, he hired out at 
twenty-five cents a day. He gave this money to his father. That was 
the law, Tom said. Not until Abe was twenty-one would he be 
allowed to keep his wages for himself. As a hired boy, he plowed 
corn, chopped wood, and did all kinds of chores. He did not like 
farming, but he managed to have fun. 

"Pa taught me to work," Abe told one farmer who had hired him, 
"but he never taught me to love it." 

The farmer scratched his head. He couldn't understand a boy 
who was always reading, and if Abe wasn't reading he was telling 
jokes. The farmer thought that Abe was lazy. 

"Sometimes," the farmer said, "I get awful mad at you, Abe 
Lincoln. You crack your jokes and spin your yarns, if you want to, 
while the men are eating their dinner. But don't you keep them from 

The other farm hands liked to gather around Abe when they 
stopped to eat their noon meal. Sometimes he would stand on a tree 
stump and "speechify." The men would become so interested that 
they would be late getting back to the fields. Other times he would 


tell them stories that he had read in books or that he had heard from 
some traveler who had passed through Pigeon Creek. He nearly al- 
ways had a funny story to tell. 

Yet there was "something peculiarsome about Abe," as Dennis 
Hanks once said. He would be laughing one minute; the next minute 
he would look solemn and sad. He would walk along the narrow 
forest trails, a faraway look in his eyes. Someone would say "Howdy, 
Abe." Then he would grin and start "cracking jokes" again. 

Although he worked such long hours, Abe still found time to 
read. He sat up late and got up early in the morning, and Sarah made 
the children keep quiet when he wanted to study. Sometimes he took 
a book to work with him. Instead of talking to the other farm hands 
at noon, he'd go off by himself and read a few pages while he ate 
his dinner. People for miles around loaned him books. Sometimes he 
walked fifteen miles to Rockport, the county seat, to borrow books 
from John Pitcher, the town lawyer. 

"Everything I want to know is in books," he told Dennis. "My 
best friend is a man who can give me a book I ain't read." 

Late one afternoon, about two years after Sarah had arrived, 
Abe came home with a new book under his arm. Tom and Dennis 
had joined several of their neighbors in a big bear hunt and planned 
to be gone for several days. Abe planned to read — and read — and 


"What do you think, Mamma?" he asked. "I have a chance to 
read the Declaration of Independence." 

Sarah smiled into his eager eyes. "Now isn't that nice?" 
He showed her the book. It belonged to David Turnham, the 
constable. Mr. Turnham had said that Abe might borrow it for 
several days, if he promised to be careful. 

"What is it about?" Sarah asked. 

"It has the laws of Indiana in it, and it tells how the government 
of our country was started." Abe's voice took on a new tone of excite- 
ment. "It has the Declaration of Independence in it and the Consti- 
tution, too." 

He pulled a stool up to the fire and began to read. There was no 
sound in the little cabin except the steady click-click of Sarah's 
knitting needles. She glanced at him now and then. This tall, awk- 
ward boy had become very dear to her. As dear as her own children, 
perhaps even dearer, but he was harder to understand. No matter 
how much he learned, he wanted to learn more. He was always 
hungry, hungry for knowledge — not hungry for bacon and cornbread 
the way Johnny was. The idea made her chuckle. 

Abe did not hear. He laid the book on his knee and stared into 
the flames. His lips were moving, although he made no sound. 

"What are you saying to yourself?" Sarah asked. "You look so 
far away." 

"Why, Mamma." Abe looked up with a start. "I was just rec- 
ollecting some of the words out of the Declaration of Independence. 
It says all men are created equal." 

"You don't mean to tell me!" Sarah was pleased because Abe was. 

"I'm going to learn as much of the Declaration as I can by heart, 
before I take the book back," he said. "That way I can always keep 
the words." 

"I declare," said Sarah, "you grow new ideas inside your head as 
fast as you add inches on top of it." 



Abe went right on adding inches. By the time he was fourteen he 
was as tall as his father. Sally was working as a hired girl that sum- 
mer for Mr. and Mrs. Josiah Crawford. Abe worked for them off and 
on. One afternoon he finished his chores early, and Mrs. Crawford 
sent him home. Abe was glad. Josiah had lent him a new book — a 
life of George Washington — and he wanted to start reading it. 

When he reached the Lincoln cabin, he found Betsy and 
Mathilda waiting outside for their mother. She stood before the 
mirror in the cabin putting on her sunbonnet. 

"Your pa and Dennis have gone squirrel hunting," she said, as 
she tied the strings in a neat bow beneath her chin. "The gals and I 
are going to visit a new neighbor. Will you keep an eye on Johnny 
and put some 'taters on to boil for supper?" 


"Oh, Ma, not potatoes again?" 

"They will be right tasty with a mess of squirrel. Before you put 
the 'taters on — " 

Abe patted the book inside his shirt front. "I can read?" he 

"You can, after you go down to the horse trough and wash your 

"Wash my head? How come?" Abe wailed. 

"Take a look at that ceiling, and you'll know how come. See that 
dark spot? Your head made that. You're getting so tall you bump 
into the ceiling every time you climb into the loft." 

Abe rolled his eyes upward. "If some of that learning I've got 
cooped up in my head starts leaking out, how can I help it?" 

Sarah refused to be put off by any of his foolishness. "When you 
track dirt into the house, I can wash the floor," she said. "But I can't 
get to the ceiling so easy. It needs a new coat of whitewash, but 
there's no use in doing it if your head ain't clean." 

"All right," said Abe meekly. 

"Take a gourdful of soap with you," said Sarah. "And mind you, 
no reading until you finish washing your hair." 

He grumbled under his breath as he walked down to the horse 
trough. With a new book waiting to be read, washing his hair 
seemed a waste of time. But if that was what Sarah wanted, he would 
do it. He lathered his head with soap and ducked it into the water. 
Some of the soap got into his eyes and he began to sputter. He heard 
a giggle. 

"Hey, Johnny, is that you?" he said. "Get a bucket of water — 

Johnny, the eight-year-old stepbrother, was glad to oblige. He 
poured bucket after bucket of water over Abe's head. Finally all of 
the soap was rinsed out of his hair. Abe took the tail of his shirt and 
wiped the soap out of his eyes. Both boys were covered with water. 
The ground around the horse trough was like a muddy little swamp. 


Johnny was delighted. He liked to feel the mud squish up between 
his toes. 

"Look at me, Abe," he shouted. "Ain't we having fun?" 
Abe took his young stepbrother by the hand. His eyes were 
twinkling. "I've thought of something else that's fun. Come on, we're 
going to play a joke on Mamma." 

When Sarah returned to the cabin late that afternoon, she no- 
ticed that Abe's hair was still damp. He was very quiet as he stood 
by the fireplace and swung the big kettle outward. He dipped out 
the potatoes with an iron spoon. Tom and Dennis came in, both 
somewhat grumpy. They had not brought back a single squirrel. 

Only Johnny seemed in good spirits. He whispered in Mathilda's 
ear. They both began to giggle. By the time the family had gathered 
around the table, Betsy and Dennis had been let in on the secret, 
whatever it was. They were red in the face from trying not to laugh. 

"Quiet!" said Tom. "Quiet, while I say the blessing." 

"We thank thee, Lord — " he began. 


Tom usually gave thanks for each kind of food on the table. 
But today there was only a dish of dried-up potatoes. "We thank 
Thee, Lord," he went on, "for all these blessings/' 

"Mighty poor blessings," said Abe. 

The girls giggled again. Dennis threw back his head and roared. 
Johnny was laughing so hard that he fell off his stool. He lay on the 
floor, rolling and shrieking. 

"I wish you young ones would stop carrying on," said Sarah, 
"and tell me what you're carrying on about." 


"Oh, Mamma, can't you see?" said Betsy. "Look up." 
Sarah gasped. Marching across the cabin ceiling were the muddy 
marks of two bare feet. 

"Don't they look like Johnny's feet?" Mathilda asked. 
"Johnny Johnston, you come right here," said Sarah sternly. 
Johnny picked himself up from the rag rug before the fireplace. 
He went over and stood before his mother. His blue eyes danced. 
This was one scolding that he looked forward to. 
"Now tell me the truth. What do you mean by — " 
Sarah paused. She could hardly scold her son for walking on the 

Johnny had been told exactly what to say. "I got my feet all 
muddy down at the horse trough," he explained. "Then I walked on 
the ceiling." 


"You walked on the ceiling? Johnny Johnston, you know it's 
wicked to lie." 

"I'm not lying. Those are my footprints." 

Sarah looked again. The footprints were too small to belong to 
anyone but Johnny. She looked at Abe. He seemed to have taken a 
sudden liking for boiled potatoes and kept his eyes on his plate. 
"Abe Lincoln, is this some of your tomfoolery?" 
"I — I reckon so." 
"But how — " 

"It was easy," Johnny interrupted. "I held my legs stiff and Abe 
held me upside down, and I walked." 

Abe stood up, pushing back his stool. He glanced toward the 

Sarah was not often angry. When she was, she reminded her 
children of a mother hen ruffling its feathers. "Well, Abe, have you 
got anything to say for yourself?" 

Abe shook his head. Suddenly his joke did not seem quite so 

"I declare!" said Sarah. "A big boy like you! You ought to be 

The children looked at tall, lanky Abe towering over their 
mother. They burst out laughing again. "Mamma's going to spank 
Abe!" they chanted. "Mamma's going to spank Abe." 

Dennis brought both hands down on the table with a loud whack. 
"That's a good one, that is," he roared. 

Sarah threw her apron over her head. The children watched the 
peculiar way the apron began to shake. When she took it down, 
they saw that she was laughing. She was laughing so hard that the 
tears ran down her cheeks. 

"I reckon I'll have to let you off, Abe," she said. "You'd be a 
mite too big for me to handle." 

Tom jumped up. "He ain't too big for me. He ain't too big for a 
good-sized hickory switch." 


Sarah bit her lip, her own brief anger forgotten. "Now, Tom/' 
she protested. 

"You ain't going to talk me out of it this time." 
"I — I was aiming to whitewash the ceiling, Pa," said Abe. "Ma 
said it needed a fresh coat." 

Sarah looked relieved. "That is exactly what he can do. White- 
wash the ceiling." 

"He can after I've given him a licking." 

Sarah put out her hand. "Sit down, Tom, and finish your 'taters 
before they get cold. I figure it this way. Before Abe starts reading 
that new book, he can whitewash the ceiling. The walls, too. That 
ought to learn him not to cut up any more didos." 

Sarah pulled down her mouth, trying to look stern. Tom sat 
down and started to eat his potato. 

"You're a good one, Sairy," he chuckled. "You sure know how to 
get work out of him." 

Abe looked at her gratefully. At the same time he was dis- 
appointed. He had been thinking about that book all afternoon. 

The next morning Sarah shooed everyone out of the cabin. Abe 
was down by the horse trough, mixing the whitewash in a big tub. 
By the time he returned, she had a bucket of hot water and a gourd- 
ful of soft soap ready. After washing the inside of the cabin he got 
busy with the whitewash. First he did the walls. Then he did the 
rafters and the ceiling. He cocked his head, gazing at the muddy 

"They make a right pretty picture, ma'am. Shall I leave them on 
for decoration?" 

Sarah, seated on a stool by the fireplace, looked up from her 
sewing. "Abe, you big scamp. You get that ceiling nice and white, or 
I'll be carrying out my threat." 

The corners of her mouth were twitching. Abe grinned, glad 
to be at peace with her again. 

"After I finish here," he asked, "do you have any more chores?" 


"No, Abe. I reckon there will be time for you to do some reading. 
But first, you finish your whitewashing. Then there's something I 
want to talk to you about." 

Abe dipped his brush into the whitewash again and again, until 
he had covered up the last telltale mark of Johnny's feet. The cabin 
was bright and shining when he finished. He pulled another stool up 
to the fireplace and sat facing Sarah. 

"I wasn't meaning to tell you just yet," she said. "Leastways 
until I had a chance to talk to your pa." 

"What is it, Mamma?" 

"There's a new neighbor come to Pigeon Creek," she said. "Man 
by the name of James Swaney. He is farming now, but he is fixing to 
keep a school next winter." 

Abe jumped up and stood looking down at her. "Do you reckon 
that Pa—" 

"Your pa is worried," Sarah interrupted. "Money-worried. He may 
have to sell some of his land. That's why he gets riled so easy — like 

Abe flushed. 

"I want you to be careful," said Sarah. "Try not to get his dander 


UP * « , 

"I'll try not to." 

"Maybe you recollect what I promised you when I first came. I 
said I'd ask your pa to let you go to school again. Now I'm a body 
that believes in keeping my promises. I just want to wait till he 
feels good." 

Sarah's sewing basket spilled to the floor, as Abe pulled her to 
her feet. He put his long arms around her waist and gave her a good 
bear hug. 

"Abe Lincoln, you're most choking me," she said breathlessly. 
"Here I was thinking how grown up you were getting to be. Now you 
be acting like a young one again." 
Abe kissed her on the cheek. 



Abe sat up late, holding his book close to the flickering flames in 
the fireplace. As the rain drummed on the roof, his thoughts were far 
away. He was with General Washington in a small boat crossing the 
Delaware River on a cold Christmas night many years before. He 
was fighting the battle of Trenton with a handful of brave American 
soldiers. They must have wanted very much to be free, he decided, to 
be willing to fight so hard and suffer so much. 

"Isn't it getting too dark for you to see?" Sarah called sleepily. 

"Yes, Mamma." 

Carefully Abe placed the precious little volume between two 
logs in the wall of the cabin. This was his bookcase. As he climbed 
into the loft he wondered if the book told about the time George 
Washington became President. He would have to wait until morn- 
ing to find out. 


He was up early. But his face grew pale when he reached for 
the book. During the night the rain had leaked in on it through a 
crack in the logs. The pages were wet and stuck together. The bind- 
ing was warped. Sally was starting down the path toward the Craw- 
ford cabin when Abe called after her. 
"Wait! I'm coming with you." 

He thrust the book inside his buckskin shirt. Sally tried to com- 
fort him, but Abe kept wondering what Mr. Crawford was going to 
say. He was a little scared of Josiah. Some of the boys called him 
"Old Bluenose" because of the large purple vein on the side of his 
nose. It made him look rather cross. He probably would want Abe 
to pay for the book, and Abe had no money. 

He opened the Crawford gate and marched up to the kitchen 
door. Josiah, his wife Elizabeth, and Sammy, their little boy, were 
having breakfast. When Abe explained what had happened, Mrs. 
Crawford patted his shoulder. He liked her. She was always nice to 
him, but he knew that her husband was the one who would decide 
about the book. Josiah took it in his big hands and looked at the 
stained pages. 

"Well, Abe," he said slowly, "I won't be hard on you. If you want 
to pull fodder three days for me, that ought to pay for the book." 
"Starting right now?" 

"Yep, starting right now." Josiah was actually smiling. "Then you 
can have the book to keep." 

Abe caught his breath. What a lucky boy he was! Three days' 
work and he could keep the book! He would have a chance to read 
about George Washington any time he wanted to. 

Never had he worked harder or faster than he did that morning. 
When the noon dinner bell rang, he seemed to be walking on air as 
he followed Josiah into the cabin. Sally was putting dinner on the 
table. Abe slipped up behind her and pulled one of her pigtails. 
Taken by surprise, she jumped and dropped a pitcher of cream. The 
pitcher did not break, but the cream spilled and spread over the 
kitchen floor. 


"Abe Lincoln! Look what you made me do!" cried Sally. "I just 
washed that floor. And look at that good cream going to waste." 

"'Tain't going to waste." Abe pointed to Elizabeth Crawford's 
cat, which was lapping up the delicious yellow stream. Then he 
began to sing: "Cat's in the cream jar, shoo, shoo, shoo!" 
"Stop trying to show off!" said Sally. 

She was angry, but Sammy, Elizabeth's little boy, shouted with 
delight. That was all the encouragement Abe needed. The fact that 
he could not carry a tune did not seem to bother him. 

"Cat's in the cream jar, shoo, shoo, shoo! 
Cat's in the cream jar, shoo, shoo, shoo! 
Skip to my Lou, my darling." 

Sally was down on her hands and knees, wiping up the cream. 
"Stop singing that silly song, and help me." 

Instead, Abe danced a jig. He leaned down and pulled her other 


"Sally's in the cream jar, shoo, shoo, shoo." 

"That's enough, Abe," said Elizabeth Crawford. 

"Skip, to my Lou, my darling." He whirled around on his bare 
feet and made a sweeping bow. Sally was close to tears. 

"Abe, I told you to stop," said Elizabeth Crawford. "You ought 
to be ashamed, teasing your sister. If you keep on acting that way, 
what do you think is going to become of you?" 

"Me?" Abe drew himself up. "What's going to become of me? I'm 
going to be President." 

Elizabeth looked at him, a lanky barefoot boy with trousers too 
short. His shirt was in rags. His black hair was tousled. She sank into 
a chair, shaking with laughter. "A pretty President you'd make, now 
wouldn't you?" 

She had no sooner spoken than she wanted to take back the 
words. All of the joy went out of his face. Sally was too angry to 



"Maybe you're going to be President," she said. "But first you'd 
better learn to behave." 

"I — I was just funning, Sally." 

Something in his voice made Sally look up. She saw the hurt 
expression in his eyes. "I know you were," she said hastily. "I'm not 
mad any more." 

Abe ate his dinner in silence. He did not seem to be the same 
boy who had been cutting up only a few minutes before. Elizabeth 
kept telling herself that she should not have laughed at him. He did 
try to show off sometimes. But he was a good boy. She thought more 
of him than of any of the other young folks in Pigeon Creek. Not for 
anything would she have hurt his feelings. When he pushed back his 
stool, she followed him out into the yard. 

"About your being President," she said. "I wasn't aiming to make 
fun of you. I just meant that you — with all your tricks and jokes — " 

"I reckon I know what you meant," said Abe quietly. "All the 
same, Mrs. Crawford, I don't always mean to delve and grub and 
such like." 

There was a look of determination on his face that she had not 
seen before. "I think a heap of you," she went on, "and I don't want to 
see you disappointed. It's a fine thing to be ambitious. But don't let 
reading about George Washington give you notions that can't come 
to anything." 

Abe threw back his shoulders. "I aim to study and get ready and 
then the chance will come." 

He lifted his battered straw hat, and started down the path 
toward the field. He walked with dignity. Elizabeth had not realized 
that he was so tall. 

"I declare," she said, "he really means it!" 

Sammy had come up and heard her. "Means what, Mamma?" he 

Elizabeth took his hand. "Didn't you know, Sammy? Abe is 
fixing to be President some day." 



'*&¥ %^^^|§- 

On Sunday morning the Lincolns went to church. All except Sarah. 
She had a headache. 

"I'll go, Ma," said Abe. "When I come back, I'll tell you what the 
preacher said." 

Sarah smiled at him fondly. Abe could listen to a sermon, then 
come home and repeat it almost word for word. "I'd rather hear you 
preachify," she said, "than the preacher himself." 

Tom and his family walked single file into the log meeting house 
and took their places on one of the long wooden benches. John 
Carter, sitting on the bench in front of them, turned and nodded. 
Carter had promised to buy the Lincolns' south field. He would 
have the papers ready for Tom to sign on Monday. Tom needed the 
money, but the very thought of selling any of his land made him 


grumpy. He twisted and turned on the hard wooden bench during 
the long sermon. He hardly heard a word that the preacher was 

Abe leaned forward and listened eagerly. The preacher was a 
tall, thin man. He flung his arms about. His voice grew louder and 
hoarser as the morning passed. He paused only to catch his breath 
or when the members of the congregation shouted, "Amen." After 
the final hymn, he stood at the door shaking hands. 

"Brother Lincoln," he said, "I want you to meet up with a new 
neighbor. This here is Mr. Swaney." 

Tom shook hands. Then the preacher introduced Abe. 

"Are you the new schoolmaster?" Abe asked. 

"I don't figure on starting school till after harvest," Mr. Swaney 
replied. "Will you be one of my scholars?" 

"I'd sure like to come." Abe glanced at his father. 

"I reckon not," said Tom stiffly. "Abe has had as much school- 
ing as he needs." 

Back at the cabin, Sarah had dinner on the table. Tom cheered 
up as he and Dennis started "swapping yarns." Both were good 
storytellers and each tried to tell a better story than the other. 

Abe did not like being left out of the conversation. "Pa," he 
asked, "can you answer me a question about something in the Bible?" 

"I figure I can answer any question you got sense enough to ask." 

Johnny and Mathilda nudged each other. They knew what was 

coming. One day when the preacher stopped by, Abe had asked him 

the same question. The preacher had been downright flustered when 

he couldn't answer. 

"It's just this, Pa," Abe went on. "Who was the father of Zebe- 
dee's children?" 

Tom flushed. "Any uppity young one can ask a question. But can 
he answer it? Suppose you tell me who was the father of Zebedee's 

"I sort of figured," said Abe, "that Zebedee was." 


Everyone was laughing except Tom. Then he laughed, too. 
Sarah was glad. Abe had told her that Mr. Swaney was at church. 
She was going to talk to her husband that very afternoon about send- 
ing the children to school, and she wanted him to be in a good humor. 

"What did the preacher have to say?" she asked. 

"Well — " Tom was trying to remember. "What he said sort of 
got lost in the way he was saying it. How some of those preachers do 
hop and skip about!" 

"I like to hear a preacher who acts like he's fighting bees," said 

Sarah nodded. The description fitted the preacher "like his own 
moccasin," she said. 

"You menfolks wait outside," she added. "Soon as the gals and I 
get the dishes done, we'll be out to hear Abe preachify." 

The afternoon was warm. Sarah fanned herself with her apron 
as she sat down at one end of a fallen log near the door. The rest of 
the family lined up beside her. Abe stood before them, his arms 
folded, as he repeated the sermon he had heard that morning. Now 
and then he paused and shook his finger in the faces of his congre- 
gation. He pounded with one fist on the palm of his other hand. 
"Brethern and sisters," said Abe, "there ain't no chore too big 


for the Lord, no chore too small. The Good Book says He knows 
when a sparrow falls. Yet He had time to turn this great big wilder- 
ness into this here land where we have our homes. Just think, folks, 
this Pigeon Creek had no one but Indians living here a few years 
back. And today we got cabins with smoke coming out of the chim- 
neys. We got crops agrowing. We got a meeting house where we can 
come together and praise the Lord — " 
Abe paused. 

"Amen!" said Tom. 

"Amen!" said the others. 

"Don't forget," Abe went on, "all of this was the Lord's doing. 
Let us praise Him for His goodness." 

He reached down, plucked a fistful of grass, and mopped his 
forehead. In much the same way had the preacher used his bandanna 
handkerchief. The Lincoln family rose, sang "Praise God from Whom 
All Blessings Flow," and church was over. 

The young folks drifted away. Tom stretched out on the grass 
for his Sunday afternoon nap. 

"Abe tells me that new Mr. Swaney was at church," Sarah said. 
Tom opened his eyes. Before he had a chance to go back to 
sleep, she spoke again. 

"He's fixing to keep a school next winter." 

"So I hear," said Tom cautiously. 

"He charges seventy-five cents for each scholar. Some school- 
masters charge a dollar." 

"Sounds like a lot of money." 

"Several of the neighbors are fixing to send their young ones," 
Sarah went on. "Mr. Swaney doesn't ask for cash money. He'll take 
skins or farm truck. We can manage that, I reckon." 

Tom yawned. "Plumb foolishness, if you ask me. But Johnny and 
Mathilda are your young ones. If you want to send them — " 

"I want Sally and Abe to go, too," Sarah interrupted. "Abe most 


of all. He is the one school will do the most good. He's the one who 
wants it most/' 

Tom sat up. "I can spare the younger ones, but I need Abe. 
With us poorer than Job's turkey, you ought to know that." 

Sarah listened patiently. "I ain't talking about right now. Mr. 
Swaney won't start his school till winter. Farm work will be slack 

"I can hire Abe out to split rails, even in cold weather," Tom 
reminded her. "Maybe I can get some odd jobs as a carpenter, and 
Abe can help me." 

"Abe ain't no great hand at carpentry." 

"He can learn. Why, he's fourteen, Sairy. The idea, a big, strap- 
ping boy like that going to school. I tell you, I won't have it." 
"But I promised him." 

It was the first time that Tom had ever heard a quaver in his 
wife's voice. He looked away uneasily. "If you made a promise you 
can't keep, that's your lookout. You might as well stop nagging me, 
Sairy. My mind is made up." 

To make sure that there would be no more conversation on the 
subject, he got up and stalked across the grass. He lay down under 
another tree, out of hearing distance. Sarah sat on the log for a long 
time. Abe came back and sat down beside her. He could tell, by 
looking at her, that she had been talking to his father about letting 
him go to school. He knew, without asking any questions, that his 
father had said no. 

Sarah laid her hand on his knee. "Your pa is a good man," she 
said loyally. "Maybe he will change his mind." 



Hurry up and eat your breakfast, Abe," said Tom the next morning. 
"We're going to cut corn for that skinflint, John Carter." 

Sarah passed her husband a plate of hot cornbread. "Why, Tom, 
it ain't fitting to talk that way about a neighbor. Before the chil- 
dren, too." 

Tom poured a generous helping of sorghum molasses over his 
bread. "I'm an honest man. It's fitting that I call Carter what he is, 
and he's a skinflint. He is only paying Abe and me ten cents a day." 

"Other folks pay you two-bits." 

"I ain't got any other work right now. Carter knows I need all 
the money I can lay my hands on. The way he beat me down on the 
price for my south field." 


"I wish you didn't have to sell." 

"Wishing won't do any good. I need cash money mighty bad. 
Remember, this farm ain't paid for yet." 

He got up and walked over to the chest. He picked up the sharp 
knife he used for cutting corn. "Get your knife, Abe, and come 

Abe walked behind his father along the path through the woods. 
"That Mr. Swaney was right nice," he said. 
Tom grunted. 

"He is waiting to start his school until after harvest," Abe went 
on. "Nat Grigsby is going. Allen Gentry is going, and he is two years 
older than me." 

"Allen's pa is a rich man," said Tom gruffly. "Maybe he's got 
money to burn, but poor folks like us have to earn our keep." 

"But, Pa—" 

"I declare, your tongue is loose at both ends today. Can't you 
stop plaguing me? First your ma, then you. You ought to see I'm 

Abe said nothing more. He pulled a book out of the front of his 
shirt and began to read as he strode along the path. Tom looked back 
over his shoulder. 

"Don't let John Carter catch you with that book." 

"I brought it along so I can read while I eat my dinner. I'll put 
it away before we get to the Carter place." 

"Eddication!" said Tom in disgust. "I never had any, and I get 
along better'n if I had. Take figuring. If a fellow owes me money, 
I take a burnt stick and make a mark on the wall. When he pays 
me, I take a dishrag and wipe the mark off. That's better than getting 
all hot and bothered trying to figure. 

"And writing? I can write my name and that's all the writing I 
need. But the most tomfoolery of all is reading. You don't see me 
waste my time reading any books." 


The path ended at the edge of the woods, and Tom opened 
the gate into the Carter cornfield. Row after row of tall corn 
stretched away in even, straight lines. Mr. Carter was waiting. 

"Ready to sign over that south field, Tom?" he asked. "A lawyer 
from Rockport is drawing up the papers. He is riding up with them 
this morning. I'll see you at dinner time." 

After John Carter had gone back to his cabin, Tom and Abe set 
to work. Using their sharp knives, they began cutting the corn close to 
the ground. They stood the tall golden stalks on end, tying them to- 
gether in neat shocks or bundles. By the time the sun stood directly 
overhead, several long rows had been cut and stacked, and John 
Carter was coming toward them across the field. It was noon. 

Abe laid aside his knife, sat down on the rail fence, and pulled 
out his book. He took a piece of cornbread wrapped in a corn husk 
from his pocket. As he ate, he read, paying no attention to the con- 
versation taking place a few feet away. 


"Come and sit down, Tom," said Carter. 

Tom sat on a tree stump. Carter was being more friendly than 
usual. He was carrying a gourd full of ink, which he placed on an- 
other stump. He set down a deerskin bag, which jingled pleasantly 
with coins. In one pocket he found a turkey-buzzard pen. From 
another he brought out an official-looking paper. 

"Here is the deed for the south field," he explained. "Here's a 
pen. Ill hold the ink for you. You make your mark right here." 

"I don't need to make my mark," said Tom proudly. "I know how 
to sign my name." 

"Then hurry up and do it. Mrs. Carter has dinner ready, and I 
got to get back to the house." 

Tom took the paper and looked at it uncertainly. "I don't sign 
any paper till I know what I'm signing. I want time to — to go over 
this careful like." 

He could make out a few of the words, and that was all. But 
not for anything would he admit that he could not read it. 

"You told me you wanted to sell," said Carter. "I said I would 
buy. I am keeping my part of the bargain. I even brought the money 
with me," 

Tom's face grew red. He looked down at the paper in his hand. 
He glanced at Abe seated on the fence. A struggle was taking place 
between pride and common sense. Common sense won. 
"Abe, come here," he called. 
Abe went on reading. 

Tom raised his voice. "Abe! When I tell you to come, I mean 
for you to come." 

The boy looked up from his book with a start. "Yes, Pa. Did 
you want me?" 

"Hustle over here and look at this paper. Carter is in a mighty 
big hurry for me to sign something I ain't had a chance to read." 

"You have had plenty of time to read it," said Carter. "But if 
you don't want to sell, I can call the whole deal off." 


Abe reached out a long arm and took the paper. He read it 
slowly. "Pa," he asked, "don't you aim to sell Mr. Carter just the south 

"You know I'm selling him just the south field," said Tom. 
"Then don't sign this." 

Carter picked up the money bag clanking with coins. He tossed 
it into the air and caught it neatly. Tom looked at it. He wanted that 
money! He looked at Abe. 

"Why shouldn't I sign?" he asked. 

"If you do, you'll be selling Mr. Carter most of your farm." 
John Carter was furious. "Don't try to tell me a country jake 
like you can read! That paper says the south field, as plain as the 
nose on your face." 

"It says that and a sight more, Mr. Carter," Abe drawled. "It says 
the north field, too. It says the east and the west fields. There 
wouldn't be much farm left for Pa, except the part our cabin is set- 
ting on." 

A dispute between men in Pigeon Creek usually ended in a 
fight. Tom Lincoln doubled up his fists. "Put them up, Carter." 

The two men rolled over and over in a confused tangle of arms 
and legs. Now Tom Lincoln was on top. Now it was John Carter. 
"Go it, Pa," Abe shouted from the fence. "Don't let that old skinflint 
get you down." After a few minutes, Carter lay on his back gasping 
for breath. 

"Nuf!" he cried, and Tom let him scramble to his feet. 
Carter began brushing himself off. "It ain't fitting to fight a 
neighbor," he whined, "just because of a mistake." 

"Mistake nothing!" Tom snorted. "Somebody lied, and it wasn't 

"I'll have a new paper made out, if you like," said Carter. 
Tom looked at him with scorn. "You ain't got enough money to 
buy my south field. But I'll thank you for the ten cents you owe us. 
Abe and I each did a half day's work." 


Tom's right eye was swelling, and by the time he reached 
home it was closed. The bump on the side of his head was the size 
of a hen's egg. There was a long scratch down his cheek. 

Sarah was kneeling before the fireplace, raking ashes over the 
potatoes that she had put in to bake. She jumped up in alarm. 
"What's the matter? What happened?" she asked. 
"It was like Pa said," Abe told her. "Mr. Carter is a skinflint." 
Sarah took Tom by the arm and made him sit down on a stool. 
She touched the swollen eye with gentle fingers. 
"It don't hurt much," he said. 

"I reckon Mr. Carter hurts more," Abe spoke up again. "He has 
two black eyes." 

Tom slapped his thigh and roared with laughter. "He sure does. 
But if it hadn't been for Abe — " 

He stopped, embarrassed. Sarah was soaking a cloth in a basin 
of cold water. She laid it on his eye. 
"What started it all?" 


"You tell them, Abe/' said Tom. 

"That Mr. Carter ain't as smart as he thinks he is," Abe explained. 
"He had a paper for Pa to sign and tried to make out it was for 
just the south field. And do you know what, Mamma? When Pa asked 
me to read it, why, it was for almost our whole farm." 

"You don't mean to tell me!" said Sarah. 

"Carter said he'd have a new paper made out. But I told him," 
Tom added with a touch of pride, "I could do without his money." 

"Good for you!" Sarah said, beaming. "Don't you fret. We'll 
squeak through somehow. But what if you had signed that paper? 
The farm would have been sold right out from under us. I reckon 
we can feel mighty proud of Abe." 

"Well," Tom admitted, "it didn't hurt that he knew how to read. 
When did you say Mr. Swaney aims to start his school?" 

"Right after harvest," said Abe before his stepmother had a 
chance to answer. 

Tom ignored him and went on talking to his wife. "Now, mind 
you, Sairy, I ain't saying Abe needs any more eddication. I ain't 
saying it is fitting a son should know more'n his pa. But if you think 
the young ones should go to this new school for a spell, I won't say 

He rose and stalked out of the cabin. Then he came back and 
stuck his head in at the door. 

"Mind you, Abe, you forget to do your chores just one time, and 
that schoolmaster won't be seeing you again." 

"Come back in and sit down, Tom," said Sarah. "Supper is nearly 
ready. Besides, Abe has something that needs saying." 

Abe looked at his stepmother in surprise. Then he looked at 
his father. "I'm much obliged, Pa," he said. 



2^ ^=m^\ 

After a few weeks at Master Swaney's school, Abe had to stop and 
go to work again. When he was seventeen, he had a chance to attend 
another school kept by Azel Dorsey. Nearly every Friday afternoon 
there were special exercises and the scholars spoke pieces. For the 
final program on the last day of school, the boys had built a platform 
outside the log schoolhouse. Parents, brothers and sisters, and friends 
found seats on fallen logs and on the grass. They listened proudly 
as, one by one, the children came forward and each recited a poem 
or a speech. 

Master Dorsey walked to the front of the platform. He held up 
his hand for silence. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "we come to 
the last number on our program. Twenty-five years ago Thomas Jef- 
ferson became President of these United States. We shall now hear 


the speech he made that day. Abraham Lincoln will recite it for us." 
Sarah Lincoln, from under her pink sunbonnet, stole a glance 
at Tom. "I hope that Abe does well," she whispered. 

Abe did do well. He forgot that he was growing too fast, that 
his hands were too big, and that his trousers were too short. For a 
few minutes he made his audience forget it. Master Dorsey seemed 
to swell with pride. If that boy lives, he thought, he is going to be a 
noted man some day. Elizabeth Crawford, sitting in the front row, 
remembered what he had said about being President. If she closed 
her eyes, she could almost imagine that Thomas Jefferson was speak- 
ing. When Abe finished and made an awkward bow, she joined in the 
hearty burst of applause. 

"Do you know where he got that piece?" she asked her husband 
in a low voice. "From The Kentucky Preceptor, one of the books you 
loaned him. It makes a body feel good to think we helped him. Look 
at Mrs. Lincoln! She couldn't be more pleased if Abe was her own 


Sarah waited to walk home with him. "I was mighty proud of 
you today," she said. "Why, what's the matter? You look mighty 
down-in-the-mouth for a boy who spoke his piece so well on the last 

"I was thinking that this is the last day," he answered. "The last 
day I'll ever go to school, most likely." 

"Well, you're seventeen now." 

"Yes, I'm seventeen, and I ain't had a year's schooling all told. 
I can't even talk proper. I forget and say 'ain't' though I know it 
ain't — I mean isn't right." 

"It seems to me you're educating yourself with all those books 
you read," said Sarah cheerfully. 

"I've already read all the books for miles around. Besides, I want 
to see places. I can't help it, Ma, I want to get away." 

Sarah looked at him fondly. She wished that she could find some 
way to help him. 


Abe found ways to help himself. He was never to go to school 
again, but he could walk to Rockport to attend trials in the log court- 
house. He liked to listen to the lawyers argue their cases. Sometimes 
he would write down what they said on a piece of paper. Now and 
then he had a chance to borrow a book that he had not read before 
from some new settler. He read the old books over and over again. 
He liked to read the newspapers to which Mr. Gentry, Allen's father, 
subscribed. The papers told what was going on in the big world 
outside of Pigeon Creek. 

James Gentry owned the log store at the crossroads, where the 
little town, Gentryville, had grown up. His partner, William Jones, 
was one of Abe's best friends, and Abe spent nearly every evening 
at the store. It became the favorite meeting place for the men and 
boys who lived close by. 

"Howdy, Abe!" Everyone seemed to be saying it at once when he 

came m. 

"The Louisville paper came today," William Jones might add. 
"Here you are! The fellows have been waiting for you to holler out 
the news." 

Abe sat on the counter, swinging his long legs, as he read the 
newspaper out loud. The men sat quietly, except when William got 
up to throw another log on the fire or to light another candle. Abe 


read on and on. After he finished the paper, they talked about what 
he had read. They argued about many things from politics to reli- 
gion. They always wanted to know what Abe thought. Many times 
they stayed until nearly midnight listening to him. 

One evening, not long after Abe's nineteenth birthday, he 
walked home from the store in great excitement. He had been very 
sad since his sister Sally had died in January, but tonight he seemed 
more cheerful. Sarah looked up to find him standing in the doorway. 

"What do you think has happened, Ma?" he asked. "I am 
going to New Orleans." 

"How come, Abe?" 

Sarah knew that prosperous farmers sometimes loaded their corn 
and other farm products on big flatboats. These flatboats were floated 
down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans, where the 
cargoes were sold. But the Lincolns raised only enough for their own 
use. They never had anything left over to sell. Nor could they afford 
to build a flatboat for the long trip down the rivers. 

"How come?" Sarah asked again. 

Abe seized her around the waist and danced her across the floor. 
She was out of breath but laughing when he let her go. 

"Allen Gentry is taking a cargo of farm truck down to New 
Orleans to sell," he explained. "His pa has hired me to help on the 
flatboat. Mr. Gentry will pay me eight dollars a month. I reckon Pa 
will be pleased about that." 

Abe himself was pleased because he was going to see some- 
thing of the world. New Orleans was seven hundred miles away. It 
was a big and important city. Sarah was pleased because this was 
the chance that Abe had been wanting. 

He had grown so tall that she had to throw back her head to 
look up at him. "I'm right glad for you," she said. 



To a boy brought up in the backwoods, the trip down the rivers was 
one long adventure. Abe sat at the forward oar, guiding the big flat- 
boat through the calm, blue waters of the Ohio, while Allen cooked 
supper on deck. Afterwards Abe told stories. 

After they had reached the southern tip of Illinois, where the 
Ohio emptied into the yellow waters of the Mississippi, there was 
little time for stories. The boys never knew what to expect next. One 
minute the river would be quiet and calm. The next it would rise in 
the fury of a sudden storm. The waves rose in a yellow flood that 
poured over the deck. Allen at the back oar, Abe at the front oar, 
had a hard time keeping the big flatboat from turning over. 

At the end of each day, the boys tied up the boat at some place 


along the shore. One night after they had gone to sleep, several 
robbers crept on board. Abe and Allen awoke just in time. After a 
long, hard fight, the robbers turned and fled. 

These dangers only made their adventures seem more exciting. 
It was exciting, too, to be a part of the traffic of the river. They saw 
many other flatboats like their own. The biggest thrill was in watch- 
ing the steamboats, with giant paddle wheels that turned the water 
into foam. Their decks were painted a gleaming white, and their 
brass rails shone in the sun. No wonder they were called "floating 
palaces," thought Abe. Sometimes passengers standing by the rail 
waved to the boys. 

Each day of their journey brought gentler breezes, warmer 
weather. Cottonwood and magnolia trees grew on the low swampy 
banks of both shores. The boys passed cotton fields, where gangs 
of Negro slaves were at work. Some of them were singing as they 
bent to pick the snowy white balls of cotton. A snatch of song came 
floating over the water: 

"Oh, brother, don't get weary, 
Oh, brother, don't get weary, 
Oh, brother, dont get weary, 
Were waiting for the Lord." 


Abe leaned on his oar to listen. A few minutes later he pointed 
to a big house with tall white pillars in the middle of a beautiful 

"Nice little cabin those folks have," he said drily. "Don't rec- 
ollect seeing anything like that up in Pigeon Creek." 

"Why, Abe, you haven't seen anything yet. Just wait till you get 
to New Orleans." 

This was Allen's second trip, and he was eager to show Abe the 
sights. A few days later they were walking along the New Orleans 
waterfront. Ships from many different countries were tied up at the 
wharves. Negro slaves were rolling bales of cotton onto a steamboat. 
Other Negroes, toting huge baskets on their heads, passed by. Sailors 
from many lands, speaking strange tongues, rubbed elbows with fur 
trappers dressed in buckskins from the far Northwest. A cotton 
planter in a white suit glanced at the two youths from Pigeon Creek. 
He seemed amused. Abe looked down at his homespun blue jeans. 
He had not realized that all young men did not wear them. 

"Reckon we do look different from some of the folks down here," 
he said, as he and Allen turned into a narrow street. 

Here there were more people — always more people. The public 
square was crowded. Abe gazed in awe at the Cathedral. This tall 


Spanish church, with its two graceful towers, was so different from 
the log meeting house that the Lincolns attended. 

Nor was there anything back in Pigeon Creek like the tall 
plaster houses faded by time and weather into warm tones of 
pink and lavender and yellow. The balconies, or porches, on the 
upper floors had wrought iron railings, of such delicate design that 
they looked like iron lace. 

Once the boys paused before a wrought iron gate. At the end 
of a long passageway they could see a courtyard where flowers 
bloomed and a fountain splashed in the sunshine. Abe turned to 
watch a handsome carriage roll by over the cobblestones. He looked 
down the street toward the river, which sheltered ships from all over 
the world. 

"All this makes me feel a little like Sinbad," he said, "but I reckon 
even Sinbad never visited New Orleans. I sure do like it here." 

But soon Abe began to see other sights that made him sick at 
heart. He and Allen passed a warehouse where slaves were being sold 
at auction. A crowd had gathered inside. Several Negroes were 
standing on a platform called an auction block. One by one they 
stepped forward. A man called an auctioneer asked in a loud voice, 
"What am I offered? Who will make the first bid?" 

"Five hundred," called one man. 

"Six hundred," called another. 

The bids mounted higher. Each slave was sold to the man who 
bid, or offered to pay, the most money. One field hand and his wife 
were sold to different bidders. There were tears in the woman's dark 
eyes as he was led away. She knew that she would never see her 
husband again. 

"Let's get out of here," said Abe. "I can't stand any more." 
They walked back to their own flatboat tied up at one of the 
wharves. Allen got supper, but Abe could not eat. 

"Don't look like that," said Allen. "Many of the folks down here 


inherited their slaves, same as their land. Slavery ain't their fault." 

"I never said it was anybody's fault — at least not anybody who's 
living now. But it just ain't right for one man to own another." 

"Well, stop worrying. There's nothing you can do about it." 

"Maybe not," said Abe gloomily, "but I'm mighty glad there 
aren't any slaves in Indiana." 

Allen stayed on in New Orleans for several days to sell his cargo. 
It brought a good price. He then sold his flatboat, which would be 
broken up and used for lumber. Flatboats could not travel upstream. 
He and Abe would either have to walk back to Indiana, or they 
could take a steamboat. 

"We'd better not walk, carrying all this money," said Allen. 
"Pretty lonely country going home. We might get robbed." 

The steamboat trip was a piece of good fortune that Abe had 
not expected. He enjoyed talking with the other passengers. The 
speed at which they traveled seemed a miracle. It had taken the boys 
a month to make the trip downstream by flatboat. They were re- 
turning upstream in little more than a week. They were standing 
together by the rail when the cabins of Rockport, perched on a high 
wooded bluff, came into view. 

"It sure was good of your pa to give me this chance," said Abe. 
"I've seen some sights I wish I hadn't, but the trip has done me good. 
Sort of stretched my eyes and ears! Stretched me all over — inside, 
I mean." He laughed. "I don't need any stretching on the outside." 

Allen looked at his tall friend. They had been together most of 
the time. They had talked with the same people, visited the same 
places, seen the same sights. Already Allen was beginning to forget 
them. Now that he was almost home, it was as if he had never been 
away. But Abe seemed different. Somehow he had changed. 

"I can't figure it out," Allen told him. "You don't seem the same." 
"Maybe I'm not," said Abe. "I keep thinking about some of the 
things I saw." 



The Lincolns were leaving Pigeon Creek. One day a letter had 
arrived from John Hanks, a cousin, who had gone to Illinois to live. 
The soil was richer there, the letter said. Why didn't Tom come, too, 
and bring his family? He would find it easier to make a living. Even 
the name of the river near John's home had a pleasant sound. It was 
called the Sangamon — an Indian word meaning "plenty to eat." 

"We're going," Tom decided. "I'm going to sell this farm and buy 
another. Do you want to come with us, Abe?" 

Two years had passed since Abe's return from New Orleans. 
Two years of hard work. Two years of looking forward to his next 
birthday. He was nearly twenty-one and could leave home if he 
wanted to. 

"Well, Pa — " he hesitated. 

Sarah was watching him, waiting for his answer. 


"I'll come with you," said Abe. "I'll stay long enough to help you 
get the new farm started." 

There were thirteen people in the Lincoln party: Tom and 
Sarah, Abe and Johnny, Betsy and Dennis Hanks who had been 
married for several years, Mathilda and her husband, and two sets of 
children. They made the journey in three big wagons, traveling over 
frozen roads and crossing icy streams. After two weeks they came to 
John Hanks' home on the prairies of Illinois. He made them welcome, 
then took them to see the place that he had selected for their farm. 
In the cold winter light it looked almost as desolate as Pigeon Creek 
had looked fourteen years before. Tom Lincoln was beginning all 
over again. 

This time he had more help. John Hanks had a great pile of logs 
split and ready to be used for their new cabin. Abe was now able to 
do a man's work. After the cabin was finished, he split enough rails 
to build a fence around the farm. Some of the new neighbors hired 
him to split logs for them. 

The following spring, he was offered other work that he liked 
much better. A man named Denton Offut was building a flatboat, 
which he planned to float down the Illinois River to the Mississippi 
and on to New Orleans. He hired Abe to help with the cargo. The 
two young men became friends. When Abe returned home after the 
long voyage, he had news for Sarah. 

"Ma," he said, "Denton is fixing to start a store up in New 
Salem. That's a village on the Sangamon River. He wants me to be 
his clerk." 

Sarah said nothing for a moment. If Abe went away to stay, the 
cabin would seem mighty lonesome. She would miss him terrribly. 
But she wanted him to do whatever was best for him. 

"Mr. Offut said he'd pay me fifteen dollars a month," Abe 

That was more money than he had ever earned, thought Sarah. 
And now that he was over twenty-one, he could keep his wages for 
himself. "I reckon you'll be leaving soon," she said aloud. 


"Yes, Ma, I will." Telling her was harder than Abe had expected. 
"It is high time that I start out on my own." 

Sarah set to work to get his clothes ready. He was wearing his 
only pair of jeans, and there wasn't much else for him to take. She 
washed his shirts and the extra pair of socks that she had knit for 
him. He wrapped these up in a big cloth and tied the bundle to the 
end of a long stick. The next morning he was up early. After he told 
the rest of the family good-by, Sarah walked with him to the gate. 

Abe thrust the stick with his bundle over his shoulder. He had 
looked forward to starting out on his own — and now he was scared. 
Almost as scared as he had felt on that cold winter afternoon 
when his new mother had first arrived in Pigeon Creek. Because she 
had believed in him, he had started believing in himself. Her faith in 
him was still shining in her eyes as she looked up at him and tried to 

He gave her a quick hug and hurried down the path. 

It was a long, long walk to New Salem, where Abe arrived on a 
hot summer day in 1831. This village, on a high bluff overlooking 
the Sangamon River, was bigger than Gentryville, bigger even than 
Rockport. As he wandered up and down the one street, bordered on 
both sides by a row of neat log houses, he counted more than twenty- 
five buildings. There were several stores, and he could see the mill 
down by the river. 

He pushed his way through a crowd that had gathered before 
one of the houses. A worried-looking man, about ten years older than 


Abe, sat behind a table on the little porch. He was writing in a big 

"Howdy, Mister," said Abe. "What is all the excitement about?" 

"This is election day," the man replied, "and I am the clerk in 
charge. That is, I'm one of the clerks." 

He stopped to write down the name of one of the men who 
stood in line. He wrote the names of several other voters in his big 
book before he had a chance to talk to Abe again. Then he explained 
that the other clerk who was supposed to help him was sick. 

"I'm mighty busy," he went on. "Say listen, stranger, do you know 
how to write?" 

"I can make a few rabbit tracks," Abe said, grinning. 

"Maybe I can hire you to help me keep a record of the votes." 
The man rose and shook hands. "My name is Mentor Graham." 

By evening the younger man and the older one had become 
good friends. Mr. Graham was a schoolmaster, and he promised to 
help Abe with his studies. Soon Abe began to make other friends. 
Jack Kelso took him fishing. Abe did not care much about fishing, 
but he liked to hear Jack recite poetry by Robert Burns and William 
Shakespeare. They were Jack's favorite poets, and they became Abe's 
favorites, too. 

At the Rutledge Tavern, where Abe lived for a while, he met 
the owner's daughter, Ann Rutledge. Ann was sweet and pretty, with 
a glint of sunshine in her hair. They took long walks beside the river. 
It was easy to talk to Ann, and Abe told her some of his secret hopes. 
She thought that he was going to be a great man some day. 

Her father, James Rutledge, also took an interest in him. Abe 
was invited to join the New Salem Debating Society. The first time 
that he got up to talk, the other members expected him to spend the 
time telling funny stories. Instead he made a serious speech — and a 
very good one. 

"That young man has more than wit and fun in his head," Mr. 
Rutledge told his wife that night. 


Abe liked to make speeches, but he knew that he did not al- 
ways speak correctly. One morning he was having breakfast at 
Mentor Graham's house. "I have a notion to study English grammar," 
he said. 

"If you expect to go before the public," Mentor answered, "I 
think it the best thing you can do." 

"If I had a grammar, I would commence now." 

Mentor thought for a moment. "There is no one in town who 
owns a grammar," he said finally. "But Mr. Vaner out in the country 
has one. He might lend you his copy." 

Abe got up from the table and walked six miles to the Vaner 
farm. When he returned, he carried an open book in his hands. He 
was studying grammar as he walked. 

Meanwhile he worked as a clerk in Denton Offut's store. Cus- 
tomers could buy all sorts of things there — tools and nails, needles 
and thread, mittens and calico, and tallow for making candles. One 
day a woman bought several yards of calico. After she left, Abe 
discovered that he had charged her six cents too much. That eve- 
ning he walked six miles to give her the money. He was always 
doing things like that, and people began to call him "Honest Abe." 

Denton was so proud of his clerk that he could not help boast- 
ing. "Abe is the smartest man in the United States," he said. "Yes, 
and he can beat any man in the country running, jumping, or 

A bunch of young roughnecks lived a few miles away in an- 
other settlement called Clary Grove. "That Denton Offut talks too 
much with his mouth," they said angrily. They did not mind Abe 
being called smart. But they declared that no one could "out-wrastle" 
their leader, Jack Armstrong. One day they rushed into the store 
and dared Abe to fight with Jack. 

Abe laid down the book that he had been reading. "I don't 
hold with wooling and pulling," he said. "But if you want to fight, 
come on outside." 

The Clary Grove boys soon realized that Denton's clerk was a 


good wrestler. Jack, afraid that he was going to lose the fight, stepped 
on Abe's foot with the sharp heel of his boot. The sudden pain made 
Abe angry. The next thing that Jack knew he was being shaken back 
and forth until his teeth rattled. Then he was lying flat on his back 
in the dust. 

Jack's friends let out a howl of rage. Several of them rushed at 
Abe, all trying to fight him at the same time. He stood with his 
back against the store, his fists doubled up. He dared them to come 
closer. Jack picked himself up. 

"Stop it, fellows," he said. "I was beaten in a fair fight. If you 
ask me, this Abe Lincoln is the cleverest fellow that ever broke into 
the settlement." 

From then on Jack was one of Abe's best friends. 

A short time later Abe enlisted as a soldier in the Black Hawk 
War to help drive the Indians out of Illinois. The Clary Grove boys 
were in his company, and Abe was elected captain. Before his com- 
pany had a chance to do any fighting, Blackhawk was captured in 
another part of Illinois and the war was over. 

When Abe came back to New Salem, he found himself out of 
a job. Denton Offut had left. The store had "winked out." Later, 
Abe and another young man, William Berry, decided to become 
partners. They borrowed money and started a store of their own. 

One day a wagon piled high with furniture stopped out in 
front. A man jumped down and explained that he and his family 
were moving West. The wagon was too crowded, and he had a barrel 
of odds and ends that he wanted to sell. Abe, always glad to oblige, 
agreed to pay fifty cents for it. Later, when he opened it, he had 
a wonderful surprise. 

The barrel contained a set of famous law books. He had seen 
those same books in Mr. Pitcher's law office in Rockport. Now that 
he owned a set of his own, he could read it any time he wished. 
Customers coming into the store usually found Abe lying on the 
counter, his nose buried in one of the new books. The more he read, 
the more interested he became. 


Perhaps he spent too much time reading, instead of attending 
to business. William Berry was lazy, and not a very satisfactory 
partner. The store of Lincoln and Berry did so little business that 
it had to close. The partners were left with many debts to pay. Then 
Berry died, and "Honest Abe" announced that he would pay all of 
the debts himself, no matter how long it took. 

For a while he was postmaster. A man on horseback brought 
the mail twice a week, and there were so few letters that Abe often 
carried them around in his hat until he could deliver them. He liked 
the job because it gave him a chance to read the newspapers to which 
the people in New Salem subscribed. But the pay was small, and 
he had to do all sorts of odd jobs to earn enough to eat. On many 
days he would have gone hungry if Jack Armstrong and his wife, 
Hannah, had not invited him to dinner. When work was scarce he 
stayed with them two or three weeks at a time. 

He knew that he had to find a way to earn more money, and he 
decided to study surveying. It was a hard subject, but he borrowed 
some books and read them carefully. He studied so hard that in six 
weeks' time he took his first job as a surveyor. 

Sometimes when he was measuring a farm or laying out a new 
road, he would be gone for several weeks. People miles from New 
Salem knew who Abe Lincoln was. They laughed at him because he 
was so tall and awkward. They thought it funny that his trousers 
were always too short. But they also laughed at his jokes, and they 
liked him. He made so many new friends that he decided to be a 
candidate for the Illinois legislature. 

One day during the campaign he had a long talk with Major 
John T. Stuart. Major Stuart had been Abe's commander in the 
Black Hawk War. He was now a lawyer in Springfield, a larger town 
twenty miles away. 

"Why don't you study law?" he asked. 

Abe pursed his lips. "I'd sure like to," he drawled; then added 
with a grin: "But I don't know if I have enough sense." 


Major Stuart paid no attention to this last remark. "You have 
been reading law for pleasure," he went on. "Now go at it in earnest. 
I'll lend you the books you need." 

This was a chance that Abe could not afford to miss. Every 
few days he walked or rode on horseback to Springfield to borrow 
another volume. Sometimes he read forty pages on the way home. He 
was twenty-five years old, and there was no time to waste. 

Meanwhile he was making many speeches. He asked the voters 
in his part of Illinois to elect him to the legislature which made the 
laws for the state. They felt that "Honest Abe" was a man to be 
trusted and he was elected. 

Late in November Abe boarded the stagecoach for the ride to 
Vandalia, then the capital of the state. He looked very dignified in a 
new suit and high plug hat. In the crowd that gathered to tell him 
good-by, he could see many of his friends. There stood Coleman 
Smoot who had lent him money to buy his new clothes. Farther 
back he could see Mr. Rutledge and Ann, Hannah and Jack Arm- 
strong, Mentor Graham, and others who had encouraged and helped 
him. And now he was on his way to represent them in the legislature. 
There was a chorus of "Good-by, Abe." 

Then, like an echo, the words came again in Ann's high, sweet 
voice: "Good-by, Abe!" He leaned far out the window and waved. 

He was thinking of Ann as the coach rolled over the rough road. 
He was thinking also of Sarah. If only she could see him now, he 
thought, as he glanced at the new hat resting on his knee. 



»,/•*■/> *<* *• 

The legislature met for several weeks at a time. Between sessions, 
Abe worked at various jobs in New Salem and read his law books. 
Most of his studying was done early in the morning and late at 
night. He still found time to see a great deal of Ann Rutledge, and 
something of her gentle sweetness was to live on forever in his 
heart. After Ann died, he tried to forget his grief by studying harder 
than ever. 

The year that he was twenty-eight he took his examination, and 
was granted a lawyer's license. He decided to move to Springfield, 
which had recently been made the capital of the state. 

It was a cold March day when he rode into this thriving little 
town. He hitched his horse to the hitching rack in the public square 
and entered one of the stores. Joshua Speed, the owner, a young man 
about Abe's age, looked up with a friendly smile. 


"Howdy, Abe," he said. "So you are going to be one of us?" 
"I reckon so," Abe answered. "Say, Speed, I just bought myself 
a bedstead. How much would it cost me for a mattress and some 
pillows and blankets?" 

Joshua took a pencil from behind his ear. He did some figuring 
on a piece of paper. "I can fix you up for about seventeen dollars." 

Abe felt the money in his pocket. He had only seven dollars. 
His horse was borrowed, and he was still a thousand dollars in debt. 
Joshua saw that he was disappointed. He had heard Abe make 
speeches, and Abe was called one of the most promising young men 
in the legislature. Joshua liked him and wanted to know him better. 
"Why don't you stay with me, until you can do better?" he sug- 
gested. "I have a room over the store and a bed big enough for two." 

A grin broke over Abe's homely features. "Good!" he said. 
"Where is it?" 

"You'll find some stairs over there behind that pile of barrels. 
Go on up and make yourself at home." 

Abe enjoyed living with Joshua Speed, and he enjoyed living in 
Springfield. He soon became as popular as he had once been in 
Pigeon Creek and in New Salem. As the months and years went by, 
more and more people came to him whenever they needed a lawyer 
to advise them. For a long time he was poor, but little by little he 
paid off his debts. With his first big fee he bought a quarter section 
of land for his stepmother who had been so good to him. 

The part of his work that Abe liked best was "riding the circuit." 
In the spring and again in the fall, he saddled Old Buck, his horse, 
and set out with a judge and several other lawyers to visit some of 
the towns close by. These towns "on the circuit" were too small to 
have law courts of their own. In each town the lawyers argued the 
cases and the judge settled the disputes that had come up during the 
past six months. 

After supper they liked to gather at the inn to listen to Abe tell 
funny stories. "I laughed until I shook my ribs loose," said one 
dignified judge. 


The other lawyers often teased Abe. "You ought to charge your 
clients more money," they said, "or you will always be as poor as 
Job's turkey." 

One evening they held a mock trial. Abe was accused of charg- 
ing such small fees that the other lawyers could not charge as much 
as they should. The judge looked as solemn as he did at a real trial. 
"You are guilty of an awful crime against the pockets of your 
brother lawyers," he said severely. "I hereby sentence you to pay a 

There was a shout of laughter. "I'll pay the fine," said Abe good- 
naturedly. "But my own firm is never going to be known as Catchem 
& Cheatem." 

Meanwhile a young lady named Mary Todd had come to Spring- 
field to live. Her father was a rich and important man in Kentucky. 
Mary was pretty and well educated. Abe was a little afraid of her, 
but one night at a party he screwed up his courage to ask her for a 


"Miss Todd/' he said, "I would like to dance with you the worst 

As he swept her around the dance floor, he bumped into other 
couples. He stepped on her toes. "Mr. Lincoln," said Mary, as she 
limped over to a chair, "you did dance with me the worst way — the 
very worst." 

She did not mind that he was not a good dancer. As she looked 
up into Abe's homely face, she decided that he had a great future 
ahead of him. She remembered something she had once said as a 
little girl: "When I grow up, I want to marry a man who will be 
President of the United States." 

Abe was not the only one who liked Mary Todd. Among the 
other young men who came to see her was another lawyer, Stephen 
A. Douglas. He was no taller than Mary herself, but he had such a 
large head and shoulders that he had been nicknamed "the Little 
Giant." He was handsome, and rich, and brilliant. His friends thought 
that he might be President some day. 

"No," said Mary, "Abe Lincoln has the better chance to succeed." 

Anyway, Abe was the man she loved. The next year they were 

"I mean to make him President of the United States," she wrote 
to a friend in Kentucky. "You will see that, as I always told you, I 
will yet be the President's wife." 

At first Mary thought that her dream was coming true. In 1846 
Abe was elected a member of the United States Congress in Wash- 
ington. He had made a good start as a political leader, and she was 
disappointed when he did not run for a second term. Back he came 
to Springfield to practice law again. By 1854 there were three lively 
boys romping through the rooms of the comfortable white house 
that he had bought for his family. Robert was eleven, Willie was 
four, and Tad was still a baby. The neighbors used to smile to see 
Lawyer Lincoln walking down the street carrying Tad on his shoul- 
ders, while Willie clung to his coattails. The boys adored their father. 


Mary did, too, but she wished that Abe would be more dig- 
nified. He sat reading in his shirt sleeves, and he got down on the 
floor to play with the boys. His wife did not think that was any way 
for a successful lawyer to act. It also worried her that he was no 
longer interested in politics. 

And then something happened that neither Mary nor Abe had 
ever expected. Their old friend, Stephen A. Douglas, who was now a 
Senator in Washington, suggested a new law. Thousands of settlers 
were going West to live, and in time they would form new states. 
The new law would make it possible for the people in each new state 
to own slaves, if most of the voters wanted to. 

Abraham Lincoln was so aroused and indignant that he almost 
forgot his law practice. He traveled around Illinois making speeches. 
There were no laws against having slaves in the South, but slavery 
must be kept out of territory that was still free, he said. The new 
states should be places "for poor people to go to better their con- 
dition." Not only that, but it was wrong for one man to own another. 
Terribly wrong. 

"If the Negro is a man," he told one audience, "then my ancient 
faith teaches me that all men are created equal." 

Perhaps he was thinking of the first time he had visited a slave 
market. He was remembering the words in the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence that had thrilled him as a boy. 

Two years later Abraham Lincoln was asked to be a candidate 
for the United States Senate. He would be running against Douglas. 
Abe wanted very much to be a Senator. Even more he wanted to 
keep slavery out of the new states. Taking part in the political cam- 
paign would give him a chance to say the things that he felt so 

"I am convinced I am good enough for it," he told a friend, "but 
in spite of it all I am saying to myself every day, It is too big a thing 
for you; you will never get it/ Mary insists, however, that I am going 
to be Senator and President of the United States, too." 

Perhaps it was his wife's faith in him that gave him the courage 


to try. Never was there a more exciting campaign. Never had the 
people of Illinois been so stirred as during that hot summer of 1858. 
A series of debates was held in seven different towns. The two can- 
didates — Douglas, "the little Giant," and "Old Abe, the Giant Killer, ,, 
as his friends called him — argued about slavery. People came from 
miles around to hear them. 

On the day of a debate, an open platform for the speakers 
was decorated with red-white-and-blue bunting. Flags flew from the 
housetops. When Senator Douglas arrived at the railroad station, 
his friends and admirers met him with a brass band. He drove to his 
hotel in a fine carriage. 

Abe had admirers, too. Sometimes a long procession met him at 
the station. Then Abe would be embarrassed. He did not like what 
he called "fizzlegigs and fireworks." But he laughed when his friends 
in one town drove him to his hotel in a hay wagon. This was their 
way of making fun of Douglas and his fine manners. 

Senator Douglas was an eloquent orator. While he was talking, 
some of Abe's friends would worry. Would Old Abe be able to 
answer? Would he be able to hold his own? Then Abe would unfold 
his long legs and stand up. "The Giant Killer" towered so high above 
"the Little Giant" that a titter ran through the crowd. 

When he came to the serious part of his speech, there was 
silence. His voice reached to the farthest corners of the crowd, as he 
reminded them what slavery really meant. He summed it up in a 
few words: "You work and toil and earn bread, and 111 eat it." 

Both men worked hard to be elected. And Douglas won. "I feel 
like the boy," said Abe, "who stubbed his toe. It hurts too bad to 
laugh, and I am too big to cry." 

All of those who loved him — Mary, his wife, in her neat white 
house; Sarah, his stepmother, in her little cabin, more than a hundred 
miles away; and his many friends — were disappointed. But not for 
long. The part he took in the Lincoln-Douglas debates made his name 
known throughout the United States. 

Abe Lincoln's chance was coming. 



During the next two years Abraham Lincoln was asked to make 
many speeches. "Let us have faith that right makes might," he told 
one audience in New York, "and in that faith let us, to the end, dare 
to do our duty as we understand it." 

At the end of the speech, several thousand people rose to their 
feet, cheering and waving their handkerchiefs. His words were 
printed in newspapers. Throughout the Northern States, men and 
women began to think of him as the friend of freedom. 

By 1860 he was so well known that he was nominated for Presi- 
dent of the United States. Stephen A. Douglas was nominated by 
another political party. Once more the two rivals were running for 
the same office. 

Several thousands of Abraham Lincoln's admirers called them- 


selves "Wide Awakes." There were Wide Awake Clubs in nearly 
every Northern town. Night after night they marched in parades, 
carrying flaming torches and colored lanterns. And as they marched, 
they sang: 

"Hurrah! for our cause — of all causes the best! 
Hurrah! for Old Abe, Honest Abe of the West." 

No one enjoyed the campaign excitement more than did Willie 
and Tad Lincoln. They did their marching around the parlor carpet, 
singing another song: 

"Old Abe Lincoln came out of the wilderness, 
Out of the wilderness, out of the wilderness, 
Old Abe Lincoln came out of the wilderness, 
Down in Illinois." 

People everywhere were talking about Old Abe, and he received 
a great deal of mail. Some of the letters came from Pigeon Creek. 
Nat Grigsby, his old schoolmate, wrote that his Indiana friends were 
thinking of him. Dave Turnham wrote. It was in Dave's book that 
Abe had first read the Declaration of Independence. A package ar- 
rived from Josiah Crawford who had given him his Life of Wash- 
ington. The package contained a piece of white oak wood. It was 
part of a rail that Abe had split when he was sixteen years old. Josiah 
thought that he might like to have it made into a cane. 

Hundreds of other letters came from people he had never seen. 
One from New York state made him smile. 

"I am a little girl only eleven years old," the letter read, "but 
want you should be President of the United States very much so I 
hope you won't think me very bold to write to such a great man as 
you are. ... I have got four brothers and part of them will vote for 
you anyway and if you will let your whiskers grow I will try to get 
the rest of them to vote for you. You would look a great deal better 
for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would 


tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be Presi- 
dent. . . " 

The letter was signed "Grace Bedell." In less than two weeks 
she received an answer. Abraham Lincoln, who loved children, took 
her advice. By election day on November 6, 1860, he had started to 
grow a beard. 

He spent the evening of election day in the telegraph office. 
Report after report came in from different parts of the country. He 
was gaining. He was winning. After a while he knew — his friends 
knew — all Springfield knew — that Abraham Lincoln was to be the 
next President of the United States. Outside in the streets the crowds 
were celebrating. They were singing, shouting, shooting off cannons. 
Abe told his friends that he was "well-nigh upset with joy." 

"I guess I'd better go home now," he added. "There is a little 
woman there who would like to hear the news." 

Mary was asleep when he entered their bedroom. Her husband 
touched her on the shoulder. "Mary, Mary," he said with a low 
chuckle, "we are elected." 

By February the Lincolns were ready to move. Abe tied up the 
trunks and addressed them to "A. Lincoln, The White House, Wash- 
ington, D.C." Before he left Illinois there was a visit he wanted to 
make to a log farmhouse a hundred and twenty-five miles southeast 
of Springfield. His father had been dead for ten years, but his step- 
mother was still living there. 


Travel was slow in those days, and he had to change trains 
several times. There was plenty of time to think. He knew that hard 
days lay ahead. There were many Southerners who said that they 
were afraid to live under a President who was against slavery. 
Several Southern states had left the Union and were starting a 
country of their own. For the United States to be broken up into two 
different nations seemed to him the saddest thing that could possibly 
happen. As President, Abraham Lincoln would have a chance — he 
must make the chance — to preserve the Union. He could not know 
then that he would also have a chance to free the slaves — a chance 
to serve his country as had no other President since George Wash- 

His thoughts went back to his boyhood. Even then he had 
wanted to be President. What had once seemed an impossible dream 
was coming true. He thought of all the people who had encouraged 
and helped him. He thought of his mother who, more than any one 
person, had given him a chance to get ahead. 

"Mother!" Whenever Abe said the word, he was thinking of both 
Nancy and Sarah. 

Sarah was waiting by the window. A tall man in a high silk 
hat came striding up the path. 

"Abe! You've come!" She opened the door and looked up into 
the sad, wise face. 

"Of course, Mother." He gave her the kind of good bear hug he 
had given her when he was a boy. "I am leaving soon for Washing- 
ton. Did you think I could go so far away without saying good-by?" 

The word spread rapidly that he was there. One after another 
the neighbors dropped in, until the little room was crowded. As he 
sat before the fireplace, talking with all who came, Sarah seemed to 
see, not a man about to become President, but a forlorn-looking little 
boy. She had loved that little boy from the moment she first saw him. 
He had always been a good son to her — a better son than her own 


When the last visitor ha 1 gone, she drew her chair closer. It 
was good to have a few mini es alone together. 

"Abe," she told him, "I can say what scarcely one mother in a 
thousand can say." 

He looked at her inquiringly. 

"You never gave me a cross word in your life. I reckon your 
mind and mine, that is — " she laughed, embarrassed, "what little 
mind I had, seemed to run together." 

He reached over and laid a big hand on her knee. She put her 
wrinkled, work-hardened hand on his. 

When the time came to say good-by, she could hardly keep the 
tears back. "Will I ever see you again?" she asked. "What if some- 
thing should happen to you, Abe? I feel it in my heart — " 

"Now, now, Mother." He held her close. "Trust in the Lord and 
all will be well." 

"God bless you, Abraham." 

He kissed her and was gone. "He was the best boy I ever saw," 
she thought, as she watched him drive away. 



The Library of Congress catalogs this book as 

Cavanah, Frances. Abe Lincoln gets his chance. 
Illustrated by Paula Hutchison. Chicago, Rand 
McNally [1959] 92 p. illus. 24 cm. 1. Lin- 
coln, Abraham, Pres. U. S. — Fiction. I. Title. 
PZ7.C28Ab 813.54 59-5789$ 

»s ■ « 




B- * o e 



1 Lincoln's Birthplace, Kentucky 

2 Pigeon Creek Farm, Indiana 

3 Lincoln's First Home in Illinois 

4 Tom and Sarah's Coles County Cabin 

5 Lincoln's Springfield Home 


(Continued from front flap) 

Miss Cavanah's simple, warm, and mov- 
ing story, which takes Abraham Lincoln 
up to his election to the Presidency, re- 
creates the period during which Abe 
grew up and imbues him and the people 
around him with personality and life so 
that they will come very much alive to 
young people today. 


Growing up in southern Indiana, not far 
from where Abraham Lincoln spent his 
boyhood, Frances Cavanah has always 
had a special interest in Lincoln and the 
people who knew him. Furthermore, she 
is recognized today as one of America's 
leading writers of historical books for 
boys and girls. She has written many 
books for young people and has also 
been associate editor of Child Life Maga- 
zine. One of her most interesting and 
beautiful books is Our Country's Story, 
a fascinating introduction to American 
history, told in terms simple enough for 
children under nine. Miss Cavanah now 
lives in Washington, D. C, and devotes 
all of her time to writing. 


Paula Hutchison was born in Helena, 
Montana, and attended schools in the 
State of Washington until she came east 
to attend Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, 
New York. After graduating, she studied 
for several years in Paris, London, and 
Florence and made painting trips to 
Cornwall, the English lake district, and 
Scotland. She now lives in a small town 
on the New Jersey shore where she and 
her husband have a six-acre farm, on 
which she has her studio. Miss Hutchison 
has illustrated a great many books for 
children and has also illustrated a num- 
ber which she has written herself. 


New York Chicago San Franci*«o 

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